Australia, SA differ on approach against spin
Nagpur is baking. Nagpur is dry, literally. Water crisis has been prevalent here for a number of years. While it is highly unlikely that water shortage has affected pitch preparation, the surfaces here have been anything but batsmen-friendly in recent times. All of this has amounted to the spinners having a giant party. And so, spin was, understandably, the buzz word in the Australia and South Africa camps ahead of their Women's World T20 clash at the VCA Stadium, even though the teams trained on match-eve at the old stadium at Civil Lines.
Four surfaces with varying levels of dryness, match balls of all kinds - old, new, semi-new and scruffed up - were used by South Africa as the batsmen went through a two-hour drill, mostly against the spinners. The plan was a simple one for all the frontline batsmen - find ways to negotiate spin without getting out.
While some concentrated on dead defense in an attempt to play late, others like Mignon du Preez, Marizanne Kapp and Dane Van Niekerk - South Africa's batting engine room - kept alternating between attack and defense. But it was not lost that they were a lot happier playing late, and from the crease.
Match simulation at training is not unusual. Except, this was done on side wickets that may or may not be as close as it gets to the surfaces they will encounter in the tournament. Once the batsmen were happy with the way the shots were coming off, they were set up with another challenge - facing up to spinners who kept bowling from around the stumps on the rough as the batsmen swept, reverse-swept and paddled.
"It's always challenging when you see the ball turn a lot," du Preez, the South Africa captain, said. "But you need to stick to your own plans and look for options to score. Obviously, if the ball turns a lot, running down the track may not be a good idea. You have to use the depth of the crease, play late and bring out options like the sweep and reverse sweep, they become very valuable. You just need to play smart cricket to adapt as quickly as possible."
Du Peeez was firmly of the opinion that spin would dictate how the match pans out, much like it did in the men's game between India and New Zealand. She also talked up her spin attack, saying if variety was the key, they had them all in Sune Luus, Dane van Niekerk and Yolandi Fourie.
While South Africa stressed on getting their arsenal right for spinner-friendly conditions, Australia seemed to have a completely different set of methods. A session of Aussie rules football helped the team warm-up. But specifics were not the only thing on their minds - understandable considering Australia are coming off an exhaustive summer that included two full series against India and New Zealand. Four days in Chennai and one warm-up, Meg Lanning said, was all Australia needed to gear up for their title defense.
Unlike South Africa, whose attention to detail stood out, Lanning insisted that the trick to succeed on these surfaces was to not be bogged down in anticipation of demons that may not always be there. And so, what followed after their warm-up was some clean, fierce ball-striking that could take any pitch out of the equation. Balls flew to all corners of the small ground regularly, which perhaps was also a sign of their approach, come match day.
"We have done a lot of work on playing spin as a batting group, and also how effective we can be with the ball. Those center-wicket sessions have been about a number of things," Lanning said. "There's no doubt spin is going to play a big part in this World Cup. But we have thought about it a lot, I'm sure we will be ready to play it well with the bat and also use the weapons we've got with the ball."
How did they plan to tackle spin, then? "I think every player plays spin differently," Lanning offered. "It's about trying to stick to your strengths, I guess. Trying to play as late as you can with the spin, but you have to just put the bad ball away. Each team will have a plan, we've got ours and I've got mine. (In) some places, it will spin more than others, just got to adapt quickly."
There was an unmistakable glint when Lanning stressed on "her methods." Surely, the second-fastest centurion in women's T20Is bats just one way?
That Australia have lost four of their last six T20Is was not lost on Lanning, though. "We're starting even with every other team this World Cup. We don't get any bonuses for winning the last one. We know we've to play a lot of good cricket to get just past the group stage," she said, before underlining the importance of spin, again, although it seemed the reference was more out of confidence than concern.
Only time will tell which of the two methods would yield the best result come match day.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo