Early success eludes Australian spinners
Australia's final practice match, against India A, before the first Test in Chennai has brought a general assumption to public notice: that in the spin department, Michael Clarke does not have the pedigree that was available to Alastair Cook during England's historic series win in India three months ago.
Spinners Xavier Doherty, Nathan Lyon and the teenager Ashton Agar went for 244 runs in the 49 overs they bowled to the India A batsmen at the Guru Nanak Ground. It was a large chunk of India A's first-day total of 338 for 4.
In comparison, the quicks Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle and Moises Henriques' conceded 86 runs in 41 overs. Despite being the stronger half of the Australians' bowling unit, they did not opt for the second new ball when it was due. The focus was on working on the old ball to keep it reversing, a strategy they hope will help them take 20 wickets in every Test.
Doherty said the Australians had come to India after studying how Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann had bowled at a quicker pace than the Indians spinners, slightly higher than 90kph. "It's not always going to work," he said. "A bowler like Nathan [Lyon], he's not going to bowl that fast. That's not his game and he's not going to change his game just because it worked for someone else."
Doherty, the quickest of the spinners today - "it comes naturally to me, all the way through my career I've been faster than the average spinner" - was also the most successful, taking three of the four wickets to fall, and the most economical.
Australia's spinners, he said, had struggled in several departments - finding the lengths and the pace at which to bowl on slow turners, and when attacked by the India A batsmen. Doherty said there was a little more 'skid' in his bowling, when compared to that of the two taller spinners. He said he found his rhythm in his final spell, and hopefully that would "bode well for a Test selection at some stage, but I'm not so sure… we've got plenty more work to do, training sessions, two more days to go."
Rohit Sharma, who scored 77 for India A, was more sangfroid about his assessment of Australia's slow bowlers and said they had attacked too much. "Their fielders were closing in - we could take our chances and score those runs quickly. It's a different ball game when it comes to a Test match, they were trying a few things so we took advantage of that … I am not saying that they are not good bowlers. You cannot underestimate anybody."
Rohit came in at No. 3 and was involved in two partnerships, 128 with the centurion Gautam Gambhir for the second wicket and 71 with Manoj Tiwary for the third. Siddle and Starc had conceded only 12 runs in the first 10 overs and Rohit said they had "bowled tight lines" on a pitch with low bounce and a slow outfield. "In the middle we saw them bowling reverse and … in a four-over period, it was doing a lot. That period was very crucial and we didn't give any wickets."
He said India A would take a call after the first five or six overs of the second day whether to declare early.