India v Australia, 3rd Test, Feroz Shah Kotla, 2nd day October 30, 2008

What could have been ...

Ali Cook
The delay by the Australian captain to introduce Shane Watson and Simon Katich into the bowling attack on the second day in Delhi is likely to go down as a tactical blunder


Ricky Ponting has a lot of options but has made some unlikely choices among the bowlers in the Delhi Test © Getty Images
 

Ricky Ponting now carries so many complicated plans in his head that when something unexpected happens it takes a while to adjust. A lot of things have occurred throughout the first two days that Ponting has been unable to do anything about, but the significant problem of India's 613 for 7 might have been eased if he had taken some different paths.

On the first day, Shane Watson and Simon Katich were two of the few bright spots in a list headed by Stuart Clark. Watson, an allrounder, calls himself a role bowler in this team. He has done a useful job, but nobody outside the side is sure why Katich, a casual wrist spinner, was not employed even for a few spells in the first two Tests.

It took 35 overs for Watson to be introduced on the second day in Delhi and Katich wasn't thrown the ball until after Ponting had given himself two overs. The captain's medium pace has been a partnership breaker at times in his career, but not on Thursday. He has a lot of options, and has made some unlikely choices.

He left Watson in the field until well after lunch and then watched him bowl Gautam Gambhir for 206 with his sixth ball. It could have been Clark or Mitchell Johnson or Brett Lee who got the wicket, but it wasn't. When Watson had Mahendra Singh Dhoni caught behind for 27, during Australia's most successful period of the innings when they took 3 for 46, the delay became even stranger.

Katich came on at the same time as Watson and broke through in his second over, with Sourav Ganguly hitting to Ponting at short cover. Captaincy is a hard business and relies on a lot of thought and luck. Had these two bowling changes occurred on a day when the opposition was less than 300, Ponting would have been a genius. When they arrived with India three down for more than 400 there were questions over why things didn't happen earlier.

Part of this was due to the strong performance of the Indian batsmen, who have only found trouble scoring off Clark. What it also exposed is why the selectors chose to leave Beau Casson, the left-arm wrist-spinner, in Australia. Nobody knows whether the bowler, whose debut came in the West Indies, will develop into an international bowler, but he is a far better exponent of spin than his New South Wales captain Katich, who has been Australia's most dangerous slow option in this match.

 
 
Had the two bowling changes [Shane Watson and Simon Katich] occurred on a day when the opposition was less than 300, Ponting would have been a genius. When they arrived with India three down for more than 400 there were questions over why things didn't happen earlier
 

Despite a useful opening Test return, Casson is at home in Sydney and currently ranked No. 5 in Australia's depleted spin stocks, behind Cameron White, Jason Krejza, Michael Clarke and Bryce McGain. In explaining Casson's omission for India the selectors said they wanted a right arm finger spinner and a legspinner. The logic becomes more confused by the day - and the runs.

Katich has turned the ball into the batsmen and delivered some loose offerings, but he has created moments of danger. If a part-time spinner can do it, a specialist would have been able to achieve more. Australia's only full-time slow bowler in the squad is Krejza, the offspinner who struggled so badly in one of the two tour games.

Choosing White for this match was not a mistake because he may offer more runs than Krejza and the difference between their potential bowling returns is negligible. It's the decision over the tour party that was made weeks ago that has become the issue, especially with the fast bowlers struggling. It has taken three Tests to be exposed, so perhaps the selectors feel it hasn't been too bad.

Delaying Katich's bowling involvement in the series may be because Australia have not wanted to admit a mistake in not choosing the similarly-styled Casson. Katich has showed that Casson could have been productive. He's not in India, so Australia need to use the bowlers who look like having some impact rather than none. In the first innings, Watson, Clark and Katich proved to be the best options. On another day it will be someone else. Ponting must recognise the man and the moment.

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