India v Australia, 2nd Test, Mohali, 2nd day October 18, 2008

Australia fail to answer hard questions

Cricinfo staff


Cameron White: "He's [Matthew Hayden] got a couple of good balls and I'm sure during the series he'll fight back and get lots of runs" © Getty Images
 

After a couple of tough days in unforgiving conditions against relentless opponents, two of Australia's most inexperienced players were left to explain the worsening situation. Nobody wants to talk when things go badly, but it is unfair to add more pressure to boys in their first weeks as Test players.

At the end of the first, debutant Peter Siddle spoke after picking up Sachin Tendulkar's wicket. It was a bright spot on a torrid opening day for a man who looks like he's most comfortable mucking around with his mates. Good on him.

On display on Saturday was Cameron White, Australia's newest Test legspinner who picked up Sourav Ganguly with a skied catch to mid-off and bowled Harbhajan Singh. Two breakthroughs don't usually earn a post-play appointment to dissect the day and in situations where nobody stands out, or doesn't want to speak about a negative position, the coach Tim Nielsen arrives.

Nielsen's views are of particular interest at the moment. Is it a couple of bad days or something more severe? Is Matthew Hayden the same player of a year ago? Why are the bowlers straying so often? Why are they so unsuccessful against the lower order? And with Troy Cooley in the dressing room, why aren't they getting more reverse-swing?

Both Siddle and White are not yet qualified - or confident enough, or willing to risk the wrath of their new team-mates - to discuss in detail things other than the brilliance of being part of the team. Which is fine. To an Australian cricketer nothing is better than wearing the baggy green for the first time and enjoying the occasion, without having to be grilled about issues they can't expand on.

Australia's bowling on the second day was generally wayward, apart from the superb Mitchell Johnson, and they again let India's lower order escape. When Ishant Sharma was dismissed by Siddle in the fifth over the hosts were 326 for 6, but a flurry of short-pitched balls at Mahendra Singh Dhoni resulted in a burst of match-changing runs. Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly batted well against tactics that were slow to change.

Johnson did not add to his first-day wicket haul, but his 3 for 85 was far better than the returns of Siddle, Lee or White. He is growing with each spell and it was confusing to see him not taking the new ball. His partner Lee, who needed two stitches in his hand following a fielding accident, has taken only three wickets for the series and is struggling for impact in his first series in India.

 
 
It's always hard to start against spin or reverse-swing. Mentally, any batter has to get their head around that. Starting or building an innings will be the hardest partCameron White
 

"The wickets are pretty flat," White said. "Brett hasn't played much cricket over the past little while. With bowling, Brett will definitely improve. Like Matt [Hayden], he's a proven performer so it's probably only a matter of time."

White's bowling is improving, but he knows he is a contributor rather than someone who scares the Indians. Dhoni was the one doing the frightening on Saturday, belting four sixes, including two off White, and almost slicing off the bowler's hand with a powerful straight drive.

"I thought I did an okay job for the team, I guess," White said. "My role is probably a bit different to some of the other spinners. And Ricky [Ponting] probably uses me a bit differently too."

The batting of Hayden is threatening to become a serious concern for Australia. In the country where he started his renaissance eight years ago he is looking unrecognisable. His legs seem heavy, particularly in the early overs when the ball is moving, and he is returning from a long recovery from a heel injury.

Thirteen runs in three innings is an unfamiliar lean spell and over the next couple of weeks Hayden, who will be 37 on October 29, will know whether time is ticking too quickly. "There's nothing wrong with him," White said. "Opening the batting is a very difficult thing to do. He's got a couple of good balls and I'm sure during the series he'll fight back and get lots of runs."

Australia, who are 367 behind, need a big contribution from White on the third day after they slipped to 102 for 4 at stumps. White, the No. 7, will wait until he gets to the crease before forming his plan. "It's always hard to start against spin or reverse-swing," he said. "Mentally, any batter has to get their head around that. Starting or building an innings will be the hardest part."

He said the opening hour on the third day would be crucial. "The first session will dictate the rest of the game," he said. "It's a big first session. The ball is reverse-swinging and spinning, it's going to be very tough."