Australia to trial three spinners in warm-up
Australia will go into their final practice match before the first Test against India with three spinners in their XI. Their captain Michael Clarke and opener David Warner will sit out of the game, as they continue their rehabilitation from injuries in order to be fit for the Chennai Test from February 22.
Included in the XI for the three-day game against India A is Ashton Agar, the 19-year old left-arm spinner who has been asked to stay on tour instead of returning home as planned. Agar will bowl alongside Australia's frontline spinner Nathan Lyon and Xavier Doherty at the ICL Guru Nanak College ground in Chennai, with Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc being the two quick bowlers.
In his first media interaction after arriving in India, Clarke reeled off his team's XI, and four of the top six - Ed Cowan, Usman Khawaja, Moses Henriques and Matthew Wade - had played in the first practice match. Shane Watson and Phillip Hughes are the other two lining up against the India A bowlers.
Australia were treating their first practice match - a two-day game against the Board President's XI - as a "victory", Clarke said. After being dismissed for 241, the Australians skittled the opposition for 230. "To bowl them out for less than what we had scored in conditions they are really accustomed to was a good sign for us."
Playing three spinners with Siddle and Starc in the three-day match, Clarke said, would give him a chance to "assess where our players are at, have a look at the guys in preparation for the Test team. We are giving our spinners the best chance by playing [all] three."
Australia's practice session at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, the venue for the first Test, had to be cancelled due to overnight rain, but Clarke turned up to test his hamstring. The conditions at the practice match venue, he said, were different to those at the stadium. "From what I was looking at the conditions, spin bowling is going to play a really big part throughout this first Test match." India picked four spinners, including Ravindra Jadeja, for the first two Tests and Clarke said he believed, "a lot of those guys if not all of them" could end up playing in Chennai.
In a raw Australian batting line-up, Clarke is the best and most experienced batsman against spin. However, he remembered what his 2010 tour, when he scored 35 runs in four innings, had been like. "I think reputation is irrelevant to be honest, especially my reputation. I start on zero like everybody else. My last tour to India wasn't anywhere near as successful as I would have liked. I really enjoy the challenge of facing spin bowling but it still gets me out, like every player."
Clarke's debut series in India in 2004, however, had been memorable. Apart from his maiden century in Bangalore, Clarke also took 6 for 9 in the third Test in Mumbai. "You will see the spin bowling of Michael Clarke in Chennai - five wickets," he said with a laugh at the end of his meet with the press.
There were pleasantries and good humour before the start of what Clarke said was his toughest series as captain. The general tone of the pre-series build-up bore little resemblance to the usual verbal cut and thrust of an India-Australia contest. Much of the difference is due to the relative inexperience of Clarke's team in what he termed, "red ball cricket" in India.
"To me it's not about what you say, it's about what you do. As a player and as the Australian cricket team, that's our goal. It's no good us making statements or comments and not backing them up. I would rather people say less and do more."
Clarke was asked about the absence of the Decision Review System in the forthcoming series and said that while he believed the system helped to "get the decisions as consistent as we possibly can," he was "not bothered" about it not being used.
"I would like to see it consistently used - I would want us to say, yes we're going to use it in all the Test matches, all the one-dayers. I would like the ICC to make a decision on that. Personally it's saved me from getting out on a couple of occasions, it's probably got me given out on a couple of occasions, as well. What the game of cricket is trying to do is get the decisions as consistent as we possibly can and technology has helped that."