Tim Nielsen lauds fearless Nathan Hauritz
For Tim Nielsen, the defining moment for Nathan Hauritz wasn't the big-turning off-break that penetrated Faisal Iqbal's defences, nor the dismissal of Saeed Ajmal, which sealed a Test victory for Australia and a maiden five-wicket haul for the bowler. Rather, it was Hauritz's response to the aggressive batting of the Pakistanis, Kamran Akmal in particular, that most impressed the Australian coach, convincing him that self-belief was now a component of the spinner's arsenal.
Hauritz was blasted for four sixes over the course of the match, including one by the elder Akmal on the final day. Such treatment might in the past have prompted a nervous Hauritz to recoil into his shell and revert to a defensive, darting trajectory, but his response at the MCG was to give the ball more flight and engage Akmal in an attacking duel.
Within nine deliveries of the six, Hauritz had his man. Tempted by another looping offering, Akmal charged from the crease only to be beaten in flight and stumped by Brad Haddin. Hauritz dismissed Mohammed Aamer with his next delivery before removing the dangerous Mohammad Yousuf and Ajmal to close out the match for Australia. It was just the second five-wicket haul claimed by an Australian spinner since the retirement of Shane Warne, and the first in more than a year.
"It's something all young players go through," Nielsen said. "There's different times when they feel they've bowled well enough and they belong, and there are other days where they are continually questioning what they're doing and whether they're doing things right. It's a long haul. He's only played 11 Tests. It's not like he's had years and years of experience.
"The pleasing thing, the thing I enjoyed the most, was seeing him get hit for six by Akmal and then be willing to throw the ball up again and get him stumped. That's a bit of a watershed moment for us and for him, that he had the confidence and the trust in himself to keep throwing the ball up there and let the surface do some work for him. Young bowlers especially don't like getting hit for six. It's easy for people to say Shane Warne had the courage to do that, but he had 700 wickets under his belt. We saw some really good signs from Haury on the weekend."
Lost in the euphoria of Hauritz's breakthrough performance in the Boxing Day Test was the fact he almost missed the match due to a groin injury. For the second consecutive game, Australian team management had flown Steven Smith in as cover in the event Hauritz was deemed unfit to play but in Melbourne, as in Perth, Australia's senior spinner rose to the challenge.
Hauritz will again play through the pain of the tendon injury in Sydney, where he will be called upon to counter Pakistan's likely twin-spin attack of Ajmal and Danish Kaneria. The fact Australia have not included Smith in their squad for the second Test suggests Hauritz's condition has stabilised, although Nielsen warned that the nature of the injury was such that the spinner would be constantly monitored.
"Unfortunately, our medical staff I believe can't get a handle on it from day to day," Nielsen said. "One day it's great, the next day it can be pretty sore. With a tendon injury it tends to needs a fair bit of work, but if you overload it and have to bowl a lot it can get fatigued. It's one of those things we just have to manage when we're playing so much.
"As the wickets fell (at the MCG) he probably felt better and better. There are times when he does get tired, and if it's the third session and he's bowled a lot he certainly does get sore. It's no different from anybody: we've got Ponting now with a sore elbow, Katich with a sore elbow and different players with different niggles through a Test. That's part of the drama and the challenge of playing Test match cricket. It's five days of hard work and it's pretty rare that you feel 100% fit." .
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo