Australia in India 2016-17 February 16, 2017

Test for Australia's spinners, selectors begins in Mumbai


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'Mentally it's a challenge' - Wade

As he surveys Mumbai's Brabourne Stadium on the eve of Australia's warm-up match against India A, there is a chance Darren Lehmann is casting his mind back to the first time he played at the ground. In the equivalent fixture on Australia's 1998 visit - their first full tour of India in 12 years - Lehmann was one of 10 Australian fielders held spellbound by a ferocious Sachin Tendulkar double-century.

Tendulkar led the local XI, and chose the occasion to strike the first blow in a battle he would ultimately win comfortably against the Australians in general and Shane Warne in particular. There was nothing subtle about the way Tendulkar took to Warne, hammering the visitors' most accomplished bowler to such an extent that he finished the innings with the ugly figures of 0 for 111 from 16 overs.

The awestruck Australians proceeded to stumble to an unexpected defeat, leaving their captain Mark Taylor to realise that the calculated assault on Warne had set the scene for a difficult and unsuccessful tour.

"Warney's a bit like all of us," Taylor said at the time, "we need to improve. I think they'd be his worst figures in his first-class career. You don't need me to tell you he's been a great bowler for a number of years, but it shows that if you don't bowl well and a side attacks you, you can go for runs."

Certainly Tendulkar did not look back, using the Mumbai platform to launch into one of his greatest Test hundreds in Chennai, before the entire Indian batting line-up laid waste to Warne at Eden Gardens. The episode is the most celebrated but far from the only example of Australian spin bowlers being targeted early in an India tour, building doubts in the minds of bowlers, team-mates and even selectors.

Trevor Hohns and Darren Lehmann will have to be wary of second-guessing their selections, even as Australia's spinners will have to respond effectively when they come under attack from India © Getty Images

A decade later, Bryce McGain pulled out of Australia's India tour party due to a shoulder injury on the eve of a warm-up fixture in Hyderabad. McGain's misfortune left Jason Krejza as the only full-time spin bowler on tour, a likely debutant in the first Test, and with a big target on his back for an invitational batting line-up featuring a young Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh.

What followed was another calculated mauling of the spin bowler by batsmen fleet of foot and aggressive of intent. Krejza, feeling the pressure, dropped repeatedly short, and was brutalised to such an extent that he returned the figures of 0-199 from 31 overs, spread across two innings.

It was a return that troubled the selectors to such an extent that they summarily ruled Krejza out of the first Test. Then chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch was on duty in Hyderabad and offered a simple verdict down the phone to the rest of the panel back home: "We can't pick him; they have absolutely slaughtered him in the tour game."

Instead, the tourists opted to include the Victorian captain Cameron White, flown in to replace McGain despite barely bowling his skiddy leg breaks in the Sheffield Shield the previous season. White was ineffective, Krejza unwanted. when the selectors finally decided to give Krejza a belated chance in the final Test, he harvested 12 (albeit expensive) wickets, posing a far greater threat than others had done before him.

These lessons have hopefully not been forgotten by Lehmann, nor by the spin bowlers likely to feature in Mumbai over the next three days. Steve O'Keefe, Nathan Lyon, Ashton Agar and Mitch Swepson can expect to be attacked, and will need to be ready to respond effectively rather than thinking in purely practice mode.

Likewise, the captain Steven Smith and the selectors on duty in Lehmann and Trevor Hohns should be wary of second-guessing themselves on the basis of a warm-up fixture. Perceived threats will be attacked by the hosts, in the hope of spinning the visitors off their axis. Resilience will be required, both with the ball and at the selection table.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

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  • on February 17, 2017, 5:43 GMT

    @aarifboy . So, according to you, India should not play at home only Pak can play aslong they wish?? Do you know India played continuously at abroad in SA, Eng, Aus and NZ few years back? No need to play WI abroad? Why Pakistan not able to win against 'a dying WI' in away matches till now?

  • aarifboy on February 17, 2017, 4:53 GMT

    Good strategy by Indians to stay number one. While all other teams are playing at home and visiting too,Indians are playing series after series at home. Just one away series against a dying WI and after that NZ,England,Bangladesh and Australia all at home. Pakistan who can defeat India at home,Indians are not wiling to play against them at all.

  • on February 17, 2017, 4:52 GMT

    @dues. Then you may be in 'comma' for a long time so that you skip 2 series after those. FYI, there were a Eng series end up in 3-1 (5 match)and Aus tour end up in 2-0 (4 match) after that. So, these are the 'last tours'.

  • cricfan82379825 on February 17, 2017, 4:43 GMT

    Wishing all talented players to put forth their best talents in the upcoming series and entertain the Crowd never like before.

  • chitrabhanu on February 17, 2017, 4:30 GMT

    Ind has a plan to introduce Kuldeep in the tests, so they didn't expose him. Very simple

  • Hemanth906 on February 17, 2017, 4:26 GMT

    This will be some series to watch out for.

  • Incognito_Brown on February 17, 2017, 4:20 GMT

    Would love to see Pant do a Tendulkar and hammer the Aussies!

  • SachinRao on February 17, 2017, 4:19 GMT

    @cricuser I agree with ur XI. Don't know why we dropped Kuldeep. I was expecting a toss up between gowtham and Siraj as the 5th bowler. But going with 4 bowlers is strange.

  • cricfan79392838 on February 17, 2017, 3:50 GMT

    All eyes will be on Kuldeep and Nadeem today for India A and Full Series With India

  • cricfan79392838 on February 17, 2017, 3:47 GMT

    India A won toss and Elect to field.

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