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Besides their patience and ability, what helped Cheteshwar Pujara and M Vijay, was the bowling group chosen by Australia's selectors which did not appear to be the kind of attack that could roll India twice.
March 3, 2013
To paraphrase Glenn Maxwell's namesake Maxwell Smart: India, at this very moment you are surrounded by a crack five-man team of highly-trained spinners and quicks who make Dennis Lillee and Shane Warne look amateur. No? Would you believe a solid four-man attack with proven first-class records? How about two wearying fast bowlers, a one-day specialist and a couple of batting allrounders? With a bowling line-up like that, it is hardly surprising that chaos, if not KAOS, prevailed on the second day in Hyderabad.
But first, respect where it is due. Cheteshwar Pujara and M Vijay batted superbly in compiling a 294-run stand, an Indian second-wicket record against Australia. In the first session, they were patient and added only 49 runs. They assessed the conditions and took their time. After lunch they more than doubled their rate and scored another 106. They were used to the pitch and the bowling. After tea they upped the ante further and put on 151. It was textbook Test-match batting.
Besides their patience and ability, two other factors helped Pujara and Vijay in their near full-day partnership. One was the failure of Australia's top-order batsmen, who gave the bowlers nothing to work with. Secondly, the bowling group did not appear at the toss to be the kind of attack that could roll India twice. After two days, it looked like they would struggle to do it once. Reassessing the bowling line-up after the loss in Chennai was natural, but the five-man attack assembled for this match seemed the result of confused thinking.
Certainly Nathan Lyon had to find a way to be more economical but it is important to remember that apart from the thrashing that MS Dhoni dealt out, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, Lyon did some good things in Chennai. He ripped an offbreak through the gate to bowl Sachin Tendulkar and got rid of Virat Kohli and R Ashwin, and then deceived Virender Sehwag in the second innings. He was far, far too expensive but there was a base there to work from.
Mitchell Starc offered less in the first Test and it was not a surprise that he was left out. But they were replaced by Xavier Doherty, who played two Tests in the 2010-11 Ashes series for figures of 3 for 306, and Glenn Maxwell, who is gradually developing as an offspinner but whose batting is his strength. It meant that Moises Henriques, the allrounder who batted so well in Chennai, suddenly became the third frontline seamer behind Peter Siddle and James Pattinson.
John Inverarity, the national selector, has made no secret of his desire to choose what he calls multi-skilled cricketers. There is merit in the idea if it means asking the batsmen to work on their bowling, or the tail-enders to get their batting up to scratch. But a jack of all trades, master of none is a luxury and surely no more than one can be squeezed into a Test team. After his work in Chennai, that had to be Henriques as a No.7 and fifth bowler.
Maxwell is a supremely talented cricketer but giving him a baggy green this early in his career was a gamble. After two days in Hyderabad, it had not paid off with bat or ball. Anyone coming in at No.8 in a Test line-up should be either the wicketkeeper or a frontline bowler and Maxwell's offspin is no more than handy. His selection was reminiscent of the inclusion of Cameron White as a No.8 batsman and legspinner in India in 2008, a mistake that Andrew Hilditch's panel sustained for four Tests.
On his first day of Test bowling, Maxwell started with a maiden as the Indian batsmen surveyed him. Evidently they liked what they saw. Once they realised he had no real tricks, they pounced. They drove him through off, flicked him with the spin, worked him through gaps. It all built up to Vijay and Pujara taking 15 runs off Maxwell's tenth over, leaving him with figures of 0 for 55 from ten overs at stumps.
Doherty at least was reasonably economical. He finished the day with 0 for 85 from 26 overs and created the occasional nervous moment when a ball ripped and turned past the edge. They were few and far between, and apart from a Vijay steer that clipped the hands of Michael Clarke at slip, no other opportunities were created. While he didn't leak the kind of runs Lyon did in Chennai, Doherty was easily milked for ones and twos.
After play, the coach Mickey Arthur explained the selection of Doherty for this tour by saying that he had bowled well in the ODIs that preceded the squad announcement. Leaving aside the fact that the selectors didn't even bother including him for four of the one-dayers against West Indies, it was a flawed concept. They chose a one-day bowler and they got a one-day bowler. Except that in limited-overs cricket a batsman is eventually made to take risks.
In this Test, Doherty bowled in his usual one-day style - full and straight and forcing the batsmen to play - but there was no pressure on Vijay and Pujara to force the issue. They could milk him for as long as they wanted and then put away the bad balls. It was the same problem Doherty faced in his previous Test incarnation. To be a serious threat he had to spin more deliveries, really rip them, and create some doubt in the batsmen's minds.
But it was all too easy for Pujara and Vijay. In the first session the fast bowlers provided a few challenges and found some swing. Pattinson tailed in a couple of yorkers and Siddle got the odd ball to move away, as did Henriques. But once those dangers were negotiated and the fast men tired, Australia needed more from the spinners.
That India scored 306 runs for the loss of only one wicket in a day's play was not the fault of Doherty or Maxwell. They were thrust into a situation for which they were not equipped. It is easy to feel sorry for Doherty, for he is a fine one-day bowler. Last time he played Test cricket, against England in Adelaide in 2010, he was part of an attack that let England score 316 in a day for the loss of only two wickets. Australia lost by an innings and their series never recovered.
Inverarity, Arthur and Clarke must hope the same does not happen this time. Inverarity, a former teacher, is quickly learning that selection is not as easy as it once seemed. At the start of his tenure everything turned to gold. Not any more. Chaos has crept in where control should rule. Sorry about that, chief.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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