Sandhu's versatility ties India A in a knot
Gurinder Sandhu was only two Sheffield Shield games old when he claimed the Steve Waugh Medal in 2013 for his bustling fast bowling. Sandhu had earlier impressed in the Under-19 World Cup in 2012 in Australia, claiming 10 wickets from six matches at an average of 18.60. Three years later, Sandhu has added another bow to his string: offspin.
Sandhu finished as the joint-highest wicket-taker in Australia A's 1-0 series win against India A in Chennai, but it was his adaptability that stood out. He sussed out the conditions intelligently and outwitted the hosts, who normally thrive on spin.
It wasn't the first time he had thought on his feet. Sandhu had employed offspin in the first unofficial Test, too, but emphasised that pace was his top priority.
"If conditions are helping a little bit [I will bowl spin]," he said. "If you have to try something different and if the captain needs to try something different, break a partnership before tea or before tea or before lunch yesterday, I am happy to put my hand up and say I will give you an over or two. But definitely will keep bowling pace and that's my main focus."
Sandhu began the final day from around the wicket, perhaps hoping to exploit the rough outside the left-hander's off stump. He needed only three overs to pick up three wickets, and Australia A only 20 minutes to clean up the tail. Sandhu was not afraid to give the ball air and put revs on it.
"For me, it is not about thinking too much, just putting revs on the ball and picking wickets, try and break a partnership and keep it simple," Sandhu said. "I am not even a part-time offspinner."
Sandhu may not have been aware of the challenges of being pulled out of his comfort zone prior to the tour, but he was up to it if not a step ahead on a typically slow Chennai pitch. For somebody who had bowled only a solitary over of spin in the Sheffield Shield, this was reward for adaptability. Australia A captain Usman Khawaja had so much faith in Sandhu, he was even given a slip and a couple of short-leg fielders. He subsequently delivered and vindicated Khawaja's faith by bringing the short-leg fielders into play with good lift.
"I have only tried offspin for an over in a Shefield Shield game. The skipper had some faith in me and the conditions are more suitable to spin," Sandhu said.
Using his height, Sandhu generated great bounce and a decent amount of spin to have Shreyas Gopal caught at forward short leg, while B Aparajith popped one to backward short leg. Sandhu also accounted for Varun Aaron in a stellar spell which read 3-2-2-3. From an overnight total of 267 for 6, India A slumped to 274 all out in the second innings.
Sandhu credited Australia's senior team spin coach John Davison and Australia A team consultant S Sriram for offering advice on spin, and said that spending time with leading Australian offspinner Nathan Lyon while playing for NSW had helped.
"We have the academy in Brisbane, the National Cricket Academy. I have been working with John Davison, he has been the spinning coach for the Australian team a little bit," Sandhu said. "He has been working with Nathan Lyon, Ashton Agar, James Muirhead and all these guys. He has been talking with me for about 15 months. He has given me a few little cues about when you do this its better and try avoiding doing it. Even talking to Steven O'Keefe and Nathan Lyon with the [NSW] Blues. Just pick their brains."
Sandhu also tested India A with offcutters, but when the ball was new, he combined well as a pacer with Andrew Fekete, having Abhinav Mukund and Cheteshwar Pujara ducking and weaving; Sandhu's first ball of the game had zipped through outside off to Matthew Wade.
He ditched pace for offspin for one over in the second session on the opening day, but realising there was not much turn, he reverted to bowling fast, nailing Pragyan Ojha's stumps with an accurate yorker in a spell of 7.5-2-15-3, and rolling over India for 135.
Pace. Spin. Cameo with the bat. Sandhu has caught the eye, again. Khawaja was left joking: "Maybe G [Sandhu] can open the batting too [for Australia]. He can do everything else."
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo