India v Australia, 7th ODI, Mumbai October 16, 2007

Australia look to finish on a high



Brad Hogg has been a thorn in India's flesh, especially in the middle overs © Getty Images
Amid all the excitement over Brett Lee and the wickets of Mitchell Johnson, one of the key differences between the two teams has gone almost unnoticed throughout the series, which Australia lead 4-1 with a game to play in Mumbai on Wednesday. Brad Hogg has played an invaluable role in the middle overs for Australia in the series so far.

Statistically, he is the best bowler, with the most wickets, 11, at the best average, 19.00, but that does not even go halfway towards telling the tale. Comfortable bowling both over and around the stump, to left and right-handers, Hogg has proved to be a real problem for the Indian batsmen.

When asked if Hogg had out-bowled India's spinners, Ricky Ponting was careful in answering. "I'm not sure if it means that our spinners have bowled better or if it means that our batsmen have played the spinners better," he said. And there is some truth in this, for it's not as though Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik have bowled badly. Both have put in good spells, unafraid to toss the ball up when the situation allowed, and capable of exerting control with flatter, quicker bowling when the situation demanded it.

But it's an undeniable fact that Hogg has had more of a say in influencing the outcome of matches. With his high left-arm action, he has made it very difficult for batsmen to get into any kind of run-scoring rhythm. Set batsmen have had their concentration disrupted, and newcomers to the crease, especially left-hand batsmen like Yuvraj Singh and Irfan Pathan, have struggled.

From the outside it looks as though India's batsmen are having trouble picking Hogg out of the hand. When asked if the Australians could pick him in the nets, Ponting did not quite say yes or no, smiling impishly: "We've played a lot against him and practised a lot against him. He bowls a very good wrong'un, there's no doubt about that. Those sort of bowlers - legspinners who bowl with a high arm action from over the top - are always the hardest to read. Even in the World Cup he undid a lot of batsmen with his wrong'un. I think he's tending to bowl the wrong'un a lot more and a lot better in recent times. It just shows he's still learning and still improving though he's 36."

Troy Cooley, Australia's bowling coach, has worked wonders with fast bowlers around the world, but this does not mean he has no role to play with the spinners. "What works to his advantage is that he has a lot of variations," Cooley said of Hogg. "This helps him do well in any type of conditions."

If India's batsmen are not picking him, it's strange in one way, because they've not been consistently troubled by people like Abdul Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed or Shane Warne, all of whom possess excellent variations. Looking at the situation another way, though, there is a bit of an explanation, as it's impossible to come up with one chinaman bowler who played for India. The breed hasn't ever turned up. Even in domestic cricket, it's hard to name one.

But Wednesday's game is not about Hogg alone. There's certainly no thought of resting him, or anyone else, for the Australians, and Ponting emphatically said as much at the pre-match press conference. There could be one change, and that's if the "85 to 90%" fit Matthew Hayden is well enough to play. Then he'll come into the side, in place of either of the Brads, Haddin or Hodge. That will mean that Ben Hilfenhaus, who went through the World Twenty20 without playing a game, will have done the same in this seven-match series.

In the Indian camp, there's plenty of rumour over resting Rahul Dravid to make way for Rohit Sharma or Subramaniam Badrinath, but there's no hard news on the subject. Dravid certainly isn't overly bogged down over his lack of runs, or distressed, as there's plenty of cricket to come this season, in one-dayers and Tests. And it would be wise to look forward, for win or loss in the final game, this series is already well and truly finished.

Anand Vasu is an associate editor on Cricinfo

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