Australia in India 2008-09 October 5, 2008

Plenty for Ponting to ponder

"I am not looking at the Hyderabad game too closely because I know it will be a different Australian team that will walk in and play Test cricket," India's coach Gary Kirsten said. No one will make the mistake of underestimating the world champions based on a tour game but there are a few issues facing Australia ahead of the first Test, reports Sriram Veera from Hyderabad


Ricky Ponting didn't pick Piyush Chawla's variations quickly enough in the first innings and lost his middle stump to a googly © AFP
 

Weak spin attack
An already thin spin attack got even weaker when the first choice, Bryce McGain, was ruled out of the tour with a shoulder injury. That leaves Jason Krejza, who leaked nearly 200 runs without taking a wicket, and Cameron White, generally considered an ODI specialist. The lack of quality has affected the team composition but Ponting has indicated that the pitches in India are likely to force him to play a spinner in the first Test.

If Australia decide against playing a spinner, they have the option of picking either an extra batsman or a quick bowler. Considering that Shane Watson - who is likely to take Andrew Symonds' place at No. 6 - will provide the fourth pace option, will Ponting enlist Phil Jaques as a cushion against a collapse?

Ponting's record against spin in India
By his own admission, Ponting's record in Indian conditions is not up to scratch. Coming back from an injury he did play the left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha very well but he had problems against legspinner Piyush Chawla. He didn't pick his variations quickly enough in the first innings and lost his middle stump to a googly. The fatal hesitant lunge forward first glimpsed in 1998 was on view again. In the second innings Ponting hit a couple of boundaries and was beaten a few times but didn't embarrass himself. He hit an unbeaten 58 but was perhaps helped by the fact that he didn't face much of Chawla.

Ponting has been working overtime on this tour. He was at the nets nearly every morning of the tour game, working either alone or with Matthew Hayden. There were some clues to his possible plans in the Tests. Against the offspinners, he was taking an off-stump guard with his back leg placed on the middle-stump line. Ponting achieved success against Muttiah Muralitharan in 2004 by getting outside the line and playing with the turn. His battle with Harbhajan Singh will be prime-time action during the next month.

Fast bowling
Fast bowling and patience are two factors the Australians have identified as critical to succeed in India. Brett Lee, a "touch underdone" according to Ponting, and Stuart Clark are reliable commodities and can be expected to deliver. Mitchell Johnson is the man under pressure. Australia hustle the opposition in the field but they need Johnson to fire to be able to apply that sort of pressure in this series, much like Michael Kasprowicz did for Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath in 2004-05. Johnson has 34 wickets from nine Tests - he took ten wickets in three Tests in the West Indies - and has been struggling to swing the ball back into the right-handers. It's a far cry from the image of the man who harassed the Indians in the DLF Cup in Malaysia two years ago.

On the positive side, though, he seems now to have learnt his limitations. "I am just trying to get the ball through at pace to the 'keeper," he said on arriving here, and that's precisely what he did in the tour game. Ponting gave him lengthy spells and he improved as the game went on. Johnson was pretty economical in the second innings and Ponting would hope that even if he doesn't get a clutch of wickets, he could put pressure on the batsmen by being frugal.

Openers?
Hayden has a great record in India and only a fool will bet against him. But he's coming back from an injury layoff and played two scratchy innings in the tour game. Hayden isn't someone you would term as being vulnerable, and he can be trusted to up his ante once the real action starts. What about Simon Katich, his likely opening partner? Like Hayden, he too flopped in the tour game, with scores of 15 and 5. But Katich averaged 63.80 in the West Indies, including two centuries, as replacement for an injured Hayden, and his experience of playing in India should work in his favour. His left-arm wrist-spin could be particularly useful as Australia field an attack lacking spin experience.

Comments