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July 3, 2012
Watching Shane Warne's 1993 Ashes demolition of England from the dressing room, Phil Tufnell is said to have remarked the legspinner's performances were "ruining my career" by extracting far superior results from the same surfaces. After two matches in which his unfussy left-arm spin has been milked for runs, Xavier Doherty is under a similar level of pressure from his opposite number, Graeme Swann.
Both bowlers have one wicket from two matches, but there the parallels end. Swann tied Australia's middle order in knots at The Oval, and should have taken more than the wicket of Shane Watson, while bowling eight overs for 27 runs. He was principally responsible for the mid-innings torpor the tourists fell into, resulting in a final total England chased with ease.
In marked contrast, England have not allowed Doherty to settle into a rhythm, the use of the reverse sweep by Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell encapsulating the comfort with which the hosts have played him. George Bailey, Doherty's state captain with Tasmania, admitted that Australia's slow bowler on tour was being set a difficult task, both by the batsmen he opposes and the spinner he is invariably compared to.
"They're not letting him settle, and that's something we're talking about with him," Bailey said ahead of the third ODI at Edgbaston. "The opposite of the way we've played Graeme Swann, they're really challenging Dohey from the moment he comes on, not giving him the chance to get into his rhythm and set the fields he wants.
"The way they're manipulating the field is making it difficult for him to settle, along with probably some pressure of knowing the opposition does have a spinner of the calibre of Swann. He's probably feeling that pressure a little bit, the comparisons will be there between the two spinners in the game. That's a challenge for him, but I've seen a lot of him, and every time he has been challenged, he normally finds a way to respond."
Just as Doherty must find a way to set the agenda for England's batsmen rather than reacting to theirs, so Australia's batsmen need to find a better way around Swann. A greater use of the sweep has been advocated by some, and Bailey said there were plenty of ways to gain greater change from Swann's bowling than he managed in a halting start to his innings at The Oval.
"I was pretty happy with how I played him Lord's, not so much the other day where I found it a little more difficult," Bailey said. "I thought he bowled better. That balance of keeping wickets in hand for the final onslaught and to get that total up versus weighing up the risk and reward of putting a bit more pressure on him is something we'll talk about.
"The sweep's a good shot … there are a myriad of options, changing where you bat, use your feet more, sweep more, you can hit shots you're trying to hit better. They're all options and I guess the way he's trying to bowl is try to limit your opportunities to play those shots."
Bailey is in a curious position in Australian cricket, as captain of the Twenty20 team while still aspiring to a regular place in the 50-over side and a first baggy green cap in Test cricket. He will stay on in England after the conclusion of the ODI series for the Australia A tour, which he said would be as important if not more so than these matches in determining whether he might return for the 2013 Ashes series.
"When Test spots have come up over the last few years it's been a matter of being in the right place at the right time and I don't think this would be any different," Bailey said. "I pushed really hard to be on that A tour. There's a lot of other cricket on around it and after it but it's something I feel is really important. I just don't feel this is a time to be missing any form of red-ball cricket.
"Proving that you can handle the pressure of international cricket and handle different situations, there's no doubt it's transferable from ODI cricket to Tests. But I think to back that up you are going to have to be scoring some long-form runs as well."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge
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