India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai, 3rd day February 24, 2013

More spinners is not the solution

It is easy to suggest that this Test slipped from Australia's grasp because they chose only one spinner. The truth is that nobody, fast or slow, could stop MS Dhoni on a day like this.

By stumps on the third day in Chennai, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc and Moises Henriques had collectively taken 1 for 184. Only James Pattinson had defied the slow surface and posed a serious threat. Was a four-man pace attack a mistake? Surely on a dusty pitch like this two spinners were required? Yes, if they were two proven, world-class spinners. Like, say, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar. But Nathan Lyon and Xavier Doherty? Or Lyon and Glenn Maxwell?

Lyon, the best slow bowler in Australia, left the ground with 3 for 182 on Sunday, an analysis that made Jason Krejza look miserly. Why should a lesser spinner have fared any better? The pitch offered turn but it did not do the work for the bowler. R Ashwin used challenging lengths and subtle variations to collect his seven wickets, but Harbhajan Singh had almost no impact. Collectively, Australia's pace unit averaged 54.60 per wicket in this innings. Lyon and the part-time spinners averaged 75.33.

The truth is that all of those numbers were skewed, and skewered, by MS Dhoni in the final session. For much of the day Australia were actually quite serviceable. Their first hour was sharp and precise, as the fast men built pressure with dot balls, and Lyon pounced with a ripping offbreak that bowled Sachin Tendulkar. They let Virat Kohli get away, but a few balls after tea the score was 372 for 7, and the game remained even.

And then they were Dhonied. Pace or spin, strike weapon or part-timer, everyone suffered at the hands of India's captain. But he hurt Lyon the most, taking him for 91 of his 206 runs at a strike-rate of 124.65. Dhoni put Lyon off his game. If he tossed the ball up, Dhoni drove him down the ground. If he went quicker and flatter, Dhoni worked the ball easily through gaps. Having another spinner would not have changed anything.

As the session wore on and Dhoni attacked Lyon, while effortlessly milking the fast men at will, Michael Clarke was left wondering what more he could do? He tried fielders in close, he tried them deep. His men came over the wicket, they came around. Frustratingly for Clarke, they missed several half-chances. There was a sharp return chance to Clarke, a six that Henriques might have reeled in had he found a better position on the boundary. A crisp flick that Cowan couldn't grasp at short leg. All tough, but all opportunities.

With each one, shoulders slumped a little more. And a slow over-rate meant an extra half hour in the field. That was one effect of the team selection that can be declared with certainty. After stumps, Kohli said he felt the inclusion of four fast men had played into India's hands.

"All of us were a bit surprised by that decision," Kohli said. "They had Xavier in the team as well, so we really thought he was going to play this game. We were really surprised to see three seamers ... which was a good thing for us on that wicket. We just decided to take advantage of that, because knowing these conditions you can only have those quick bowling spells. Those bursts, for like three or four overs, not more than that."

But India should know the value of playing to your strengths. At the WACA last January Australia chose four fast men on a quick, bouncy pitch. So did India. They ignored their forte, spin, and hoped the conditions would work for their seamers. Australia's bowlers were quick enough to exploit the pitch; India's were not. They lost within three days. By picking two spinners in Chennai, Australia would have been similarly ignoring their strength and relying on the pitch.

Historically that has not been a successful tactic for Australia. The Shane Warne-Gavin Robertson combination helped them win one Test in 1998, but they still lost two. The Brad Hogg-Peter McIntyre partnership in 1996 failed. As did the Warne-Colin Miller pairing in Chennai in 2001. And the Cameron White-Jason Krejza union in Nagpur in 2008.

The only Australia squad to win a Test series in India in the past 40 years, Adam Gilchrist's 2004 outfit, used only one spinner in each match. In that series, 63% of Australia's wickets came from the fast men. Another pace-oriented team, South Africa, have drawn their past two tours of India, and 79% of their wickets came from the quick bowlers. A drawn series this time would be enough for Clarke's men to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

That is not to say that their selections will guarantee success. Not if India keep batting the way Dhoni, Kohli and Tendulkar did in this innings. And not if Australia continue to miss their half-chances. There are plenty of things Australia would like to change about the first three days in Chennai. But the balance of the attack should not be one of them.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Chris on February 26, 2013, 5:37 GMT

    Brydon - incorrect. Massively incorrect. Lyon is NOT the best slow bowler in Australia. Anyone who actually follows cricket at more than just a national level knows that Steve O'Keefe is by a gulf the best slow bowler in Australia and has been for years. Even a Victorian would acknowledge that. Zampa has also shown some fantastic potential who given another season in shield, could even be better than both O'Keefe and Lyon, but we'll wait and see. Also, Pattinson was not "Dhonied". Not to take anything away from Dhoni's great knock, but Pattinson was outstanding and he got his man in the end as well. Having a good spinner like O'Keefe and a good accurate bowler like Bird or Harris (Starc and Siddle are not consistent enough) would have made all the difference. Please do what no other journalist did at the squad announcement and question the NSP on why they keep overlooking SOK, there's just no excuse left now.

  • Philip on February 25, 2013, 20:55 GMT

    A cheerio to @andrew-schulz - I'm a Victorian and I agree with you. However, I don't think you told all of the story. Moises Henriques has entered himself in the book of revelations with his batting. I always thought he was a one-day hitter. But he batted like an old-fashioned type. No doubt the cap helped. Matty Wade, on the other hand, looked like a walking wicket. I was told yesterday by another Victorian that Wade's second innings batting record is deplorable. I looked it up and it is. Henriques should be pencilled in at 6. Wade must go. His keeping, as you say, is not up to it. But neither is his batting on turning pitches. You are right to say that even Brad Haddin would be preferable. Another Victorian, who was all for Wade, has admitted that he's been "disappointing". Yes, there's lots of one-eyed supporters out there, but some of us do try and think for ourselves! I'm sure we need a new gloveman if we're to play two spinners and if Henriques is to bowl more, we need more spin.

  • Michael Ponnudurai on February 25, 2013, 11:33 GMT

    I can understand why many of us from India are advocating Aus to continue with playing to their strengths-with 3-4 fast bowlers and just one speacialist spinner. We have not forgotten how Eng learnt their lessons in their series here and beat India by 2-1, have we? Are we betraying a sense of nervousness assuming Aus apinners (if two specialists are included in XI) could be dangerous if conditions that turned out on 4th day in Chennai happens in Hyd or any of the next 3 Tests?

  • Mashuq on February 25, 2013, 10:27 GMT

    On the article itself, I agree with you, @Sidecast on (February 25, 2013, 1:31 GMT). The use of the rough after tea might have led to a different outcome. Not being wise after the fact but I agree with you @blink182alex on (February 24, 2013, 16:53 GMT) about Harris. No one could be sure of Pattinson but he came to party. Siddle was never going to do anything, but for the sake of the "tightness" of the group they picked him. Agree with every word @ygkd on (February 24, 2013, 22:06 GMT). Hope they are serious about PERFORMANCE, but I fear not. If they were, they wouldn't have selected Smith and Maxwell in the first place. Now they have to face it that Siddle must go. Keep Starc because yorkers are going to bring some wickets. Please play Khawaja for Hughes. Stop mollycoddling the one and give the other a fair go. But if you haven't got any spinning talent, you're lose a 4-match series in India every time. Not sure about Johnson @Tom Berenger on (February 24, 2013, 17:21 GMT).

  • Dummy4 on February 25, 2013, 9:49 GMT

    Excellent Brydon..I agree with you. Australia should not compromise with its own strength..its strength was and is 'Fast' not 'Spin'. India did it once in last visit to down under and paid heavily the price. I would say if Lyon and Captain Clarke himself combine themself for the purpose to deliver a combination of Slow Leftarm and Offbreak bowling agaist India, it would be suffice and interesting. Remember the debut tour of Clarke to India? Remember Clarke in Sydney Test against India Under Khumble's captaincy?

    India own the Perth Teat against Australia because India fielded to its strength. It was due to the success of Khumble (though Ishant and Irfan was successful) and Sehwag, India own the match. Remember the turning point of the match...Sehwag bowled Gilchrist arround his leg in the second innings !

    So, play and have confidence on your own strength..don't mimick !

  • Robbie on February 25, 2013, 9:38 GMT

    Got to agree there is no point in picking a second spinner of poor quality. A much better idea is to pick your best bowlers, one of which is Bird. Siddle is a dud who needs to be about 15km/hr faster if he is going to be effective against good batsmen.

  • Dummy4 on February 25, 2013, 9:36 GMT

    I am disappointed at the way in which this track is prepared. . .It once again shows the lack of foresight from the BCCI. . . Although India will probably win this test. . Australia's young batsmen will gain valuable experience from this series and will eventually be the better for it. India's young team though will once again have an inflated victory on a rank turner. . which kills the chance for a number of good young pace bowlers from gaining experience and its batsmen from gaining experience against good pace bowling. The impending departure of Tendulkar will complete the last true touring Test match professionals for a while. . and cement India's place in the middle test rankings. Seriously when will this stop

  • Dummy4 on February 25, 2013, 9:32 GMT

    The Cricket Australia Rule makers should make picking a genuine spinner in all domestic competition games compulsory + a minimum allocation of overs required to be bowled by spinners. That is the only way to foster spinners in Australia. Our Australian pitches just are't conducive to spin bowling so full time spinners don't get picked. When they are picked they hardly bowl unless the pitch is crumbling. It is just so obvious the Australian batsmen have no clue against any half decent spinners because they never face quality spin.

  • John on February 25, 2013, 9:26 GMT

    There have been a number of references to SW's performances in India but I honestly can't recall any pitches like this one being served up when Warne toured. Given the bounce that orthodox spinners have managed to get I shudder to think what a decent leg spinner would get. By the same token I doubt if Australia would have reached 150 in either innings if Kumble was still playing.

  • Nicholas on February 25, 2013, 9:18 GMT

    Australia need wrist-spinners, a wicket-keeper that can bat a little, a much better number 3, a more consistent opening batsman, and fitter fast bowlers. McKay needs to be considered for tests, not fragile injury-prone T20 bowlers like Cummins.