Turning point for Nathan Hauritz
Ricky Ponting has predicted Nathan Hauritz's five-wicket haul at the MCG will be a career-turning moment for a spinner who was, only last week, challenged to stand up as a fourth-innings match-winner. Hauritz helped knock Pakistan over for 251 to deliver a big win for Australia and his 5 for 101 was an outstanding result; he had never before taken five wickets in an innings in a first-class game.
His previous best at first-class level was 4 for 86, and in Tests he had not taken more than three in an innings. In particular, his poor record in the fourth innings of Tests led the chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch to challenge Hauritz prior to the Boxing Day Test. Hilditch asked Hauritz to stand up towards the end of games, when the captain needs to be able to turn to a wicket-taking spinner.
The words seemed to spark something in Hauritz, who on the fourth afternoon put Australia firmly in command with a sharp-turning offbreak that spun through the gate of Faisal Iqbal and collected his off stump. On the fifth day it was his flight and bounce that troubled Pakistan, as he had two men caught in close, another stumped, and he finished the Test with a fifth wicket when the No. 11 Saeed Ajmal skied a catch to midwicket.
The Australians flocked to Hauritz and embraced him, happy that the No. 1 spinner in the country was taking positive steps after a year in the team. Ponting said the five-for would give Hauritz confidence that he belonged at Test level and develop into a dangerous strike bowler for Australia in the later stages of Tests.
"Unless you've actually got over the line and done it when it really matters, you always have doubts about yourself and whether you can do it," Ponting said. "Today, in Nathan's career, could be one of the really big turning points. That's his first-ever first-class five-for and it happens in a Test match - you couple that with the fact that there was an article written at the start of the week about the selectors wanting him to stand up late in the game, he's done that really well.
"There's no doubt that's a great thrill for him, it's a great thrill for all of us as well. If you saw everyone when he took that last wicket, everyone rushed to him because we all knew how much it meant to him. It's great to see that spirit is around the team and all the hard work that guys are putting in, they finally get the rewards."
Hauritz spent time speaking to Shane Warne on the fifth morning, keen for some advice on how to be the match-winning fifth-day spinner that Australia have craved. The words of wisdom involved altering his line and Ponting said everything that Hauritz had done at the MCG had indicated he was moving in the right direction.
"A great sign for him was the first wicket he got last night, when he got Iqbal with one that caught the rough and spun back through the gate," Ponting said. "They're the sort of wickets we want offspinners to be getting. He changed up his line a little bit this morning, he bowled that little bit wider outside off stump and might have gone for a few more runs through the off side, but that's what we want to see from him. Batsmen scoring runs through the off side on the fifth day of a Test are always going to be taking risks against an offspinner."
Despite the general consensus that Australia's spin-bowling depth has been a worry over the past couple of years, Ponting said he was pleased with the way the slow men were developing. Hauritz is stepping up as a Test player, Jason Krejza remains in the frame, the Victorian left-armer Jon Holland is viewed as a future prospect and the legspinner Steven Smith has been in the squad for the past two Tests.
"I'm very happy with the way our spin bowling stocks are looking at the moment," Ponting said. "Krejza has shown a lot of improvement this year in domestic cricket. His wicket numbers might not suggest that but if you talk to a lot of the players who have played him and seen him bowl this year, they seem to think that he's definitely on the right track.
"Jon Holland spent some time with us in India in the one-day squad over there, unfortunately didn't get a game, but it's great to see him get an opportunity to play a first-class game for Victoria last week and get a few wickets. And then you've got Smith, so there are a few guys around at the moment. That's a real positive for us."
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo