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.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Moses on October 31, 2008, 6:06 GMT

    This article is nothing but hindsight. Cricinfo is the no.1 cricket website and can do better that hire such columnists. I understand cricket much better and would be glad to write for cricinfo.

  • Ramakrishnan on October 31, 2008, 5:39 GMT

    Mr Ali Cook seems to have joined Mr Peter Roebuck in "going after" Ricky Ponting.. Where were you when Ricky and his team were trouncing other teams? Its very easy to comment from the sidelines!

  • Faraz on October 31, 2008, 5:32 GMT

    Ponting is a good captain, but is not a great captain. As he always had a great team, but now when he doesn't have the same great team the chinks in his armoury are obvious. It's pretty clear ponting has been hit hardest by the retirements of Mcgrath, Warne and Gilchrist, and the biggest loss has been Warne, by far. Not having the same great team of match winner has affected his captaincy for sure. Katich has always been a decent bowler and its really surprising he hasn't been used before this test. Cameron White is an OK bowler and done an OK job with his legspin but his wickets have not been neccesarily off good bowling. Let's hope Katich's chinamen is used more during this series and on later tours as well. Looks like this tour is going to be a big learning curb for Ponting and his 'Not so Invincible' Aussies.

  • sachin on October 31, 2008, 5:08 GMT

    Coming to India for playing test and that too without including a specialist spinner doesn't serve the cause of touring India at all.And don't think that had ponting introduced watson and katich earlier,they would have been in better position.It was superb performance by Indian batsmen which outperformed aussies.

  • Wasim on October 31, 2008, 4:36 GMT

    Ricky ponting is no mortal. He has been the most successful captain only because of the precense of gr8 players like mcgrath and warne. With them retired the period of australian invincibility is over. Australian teams have always been troubled in india but what is striking about the last test match is that the pitch was not a minefield as they mostly encountered in their previous outings. They were beaten by our pace bowlers.

  • James on October 31, 2008, 4:22 GMT

    The bowling has dried up for the time being, but still its not too bad. If they bowl to their potential, Lee, Stuart Clark, Johnson are a handful- and add to that the effective allrounder Watson- its not bad at all. But more importantly the batting has been weak. Possibly some ageing legs. But where is Shaun March- the guy whom people found it difficult to bowl to in the IPL. Leaving such a guy out when the team is struggling, is sheer suicide. Include him and Symonds, and Australia still have a potent line up. Ponting was never a great captain - but still good enough to manage a very good team. Even the last series which Australia won in India was captained by Gilchrist.

  • Hareendra on October 31, 2008, 3:29 GMT

    Couldn't agree more with the article. Even when Australia were winning matches, there were obvious indicators that Ponting is leagues behind the likes of Waugh and Taylor. As for selection, well lately its become almost as bad as Ponting's captaincy. For instance, are they adamant on destroying Phil Jaques? And Cameron White is no test bowler. His batting is ineffectual ,to say the least, on these conditions, so why persist with him for 3 test?

  • Rajaram on October 31, 2008, 2:47 GMT

    Armchair analysts are quick to deliberate on "what could have been".This is a silly waste of time. Ponting is not a fool, nor are the Australian selectors.Not for nothing are they World Chapions for over a decade.

  • Rohan on October 31, 2008, 2:07 GMT

    Ponting has surely missed some tricks in this series..Cameron White has done an OK job with his spin..But, you need a specialist spinner in your team..Atleast in the Sub-continent..Brett Lee not taking wickets is adding to Australia's woes.

  • Sam on October 31, 2008, 1:38 GMT

    Sorry m0nsty but Ponting has proven he has not had the foresight to break up the pattern of play, pick fields or bowling changes, and to give his bowlers options to take wickets when batsmen are set.

    Mark Taylor was an excellent example (as noted by Mr Roebuck) of being able to create something from seemingly nothing. He knew his resources well and had a good instinct on what might change the state of play. Ponting just throws the ball to his "strike weapons" and hopes for the best. You have to do better against a quality, set opposition.

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