February 10, 2013

Spin could be Australia's Achilles heel in India

Picking a second spinner to partner Nathan Lyon, and how to bat on turning tracks will be the big questions for the side

The clash between India and Australia promises to be a classic battle between spin and pace and experience and youth.

Australia's great strength is their hit-man squad of fast bowlers, who will be confronted by an experienced Indian batting line-up. How the young quicks cope with the conditions will play a big part in deciding the series, and it could also shape Sachin Tendulkar's immediate future. A good series might see him carry on in Test cricket, but another poor showing like the one he had against England may prompt him to retire.

Australia will be comforted by the success Jimmy Anderson had in India, and they will prefer to play three fast bowlers: Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc will be the first picks, and James Pattinson, if he is deemed ready, is likely to be preferred over Mitchell Johnson as the third. But that means Australia will be going in with two bowlers - Siddle and Pattinson - who haven't played any long-form cricket in over a month.

This summer Starc has had consistent success with late movement into right-hand batsmen at a lively pace - a delivery that the highly dangerous Virender Sehwag is most uncomfortable against. His opening partner Gautam Gambhir is, like most batsmen, vulnerable to the away-swinger early on.

Gambhir will be a prized early wicket, because he can attack spinners. Australia will be flustered if he gets on top of Nathan Lyon, who is a steady offspinner - no Graeme Swann, but tidy nonetheless.

However, none of Australia's other spinners has made a mark so far. Choosing the second spinner will be crucial. They may look to cover two bases by using Glenn Maxwell as a second spinner who can add some valuable middle-order runs. India should look to attack him from the outset to dent one of his great strengths - confidence.

If the Indian pitches for the series are raging turners, the other option would be to use medium-fast allrounder Moises Henriques as a third seamer and Xavier Doherty as the second frontline spinner.

Other than not having top-class spinners, Australia's most glaring weakness is batting against quality spin. If their batsmen were facing a traditional Indian side, full of wily spinners, it would have spelt trouble for them, but against this team, which is still trying to decide on its best attack, they will feel they have a chance.

The Australian batting order contains two areas of contention: who will open and where will Michael Clarke bat?

Shane Watson's return to top form in ODIs suggests he'll open with the ultra-aggressive David Warner. That is Australia's best opening combination and it lines up the batting order correctly, with Clarke at No. 4, where he's best suited. Clarke is the best player of spin in the Australian side, so he can't afford to bat any lower than No. 4, otherwise the Indian spinners could have the upper hand by the time he arrives at the crease. With Watson opening, it's likely Australia will have some runs on the board before Clarke has to face the spinners. That makes him a much more dangerous proposition.

That leaves the ungainly but highly effective Phil Hughes at No. 3 and opens up a spot for Usman Khawaja at No. 5. This will be a big test for Khawaja, as he is a bit leaden-footed to start with against spinners, but Australia have to unearth some young batsmen, especially in the middle order. Matthew Wade will bat at No. 6, with Maxwell coming at 7.

The make-up of India's attack will give a clue to how they propose to dismantle the Australian batting. As Australians traditionally play legspin better than the left-arm orthodox variety, I suspect India will choose two left-arm spinners to partner offspinner R Ashwin.

The type of surfaces the four Tests will be played on will have a big part in shaping the result. I expect the pitches to favour spin rather than pace. If that's the case, India will be favourites to win, but only if they have mentally recovered from being beaten by England.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Kaze on February 13, 2013, 23:03 GMT

    I prefer to look to past series to judge strength. In the last series OZ gave the indians a hell of a run in the first 2 tests. That was an indian side with much more experienced batting than the current one. The key for me is Starc, if he gets his swing going at pace then the pitch becomes irrelevant. It will be a torrid time for an indian side whose younger players are notoriously terrible against pace bowling. My money is on OZ to thrash india , they might struggle at times against the spin but I will back them to do the job.

  • Dummy4 on February 12, 2013, 2:51 GMT

    Aussie's are really going to miss Steve O'keefe and he is far better spinner/bat compared to Lyon or Doherty... India would be really happy with Mike Hussey just announcing his retirement just before this series...

    Aussie XI against 1st Test: Warner, Ed Cowan, Hughes, Clarke, Watson, Wade, Maxwell, Johnson, Pattison, Starc, Lyon

  • Dale on February 12, 2013, 2:44 GMT

    Not many people giving Lyon a chance here. He's proved a solid spinner and lumping him in with Doherty Maxwell and Smith is unfair. He's a much better spinner than these guys. He might not be a future great but he's good enough to take wickets when needed and also apply some pressure with good flight and drift. Has everyone forgot how he dismantled SL in SL? I hope he does really well this series to shut up the naysayers. I also hope Johnson can put in a good performance he's been bowling very well lately, much more consistent than he used to be. Still waiting for the next destructive spell from him.

    As far as India is concerned i'm interested to see how Pujara and Kohli go. Both show plenty of potential and i think will be the hardest men for us to dispose of. I'm of course assuming Tendulkar and Sehwag continue slipping into senility and don't rediscover their youth in this series.

  • Krishnaswami on February 11, 2013, 21:13 GMT

    Time and again, it has been proved that good pace attack and/or spin attack can defeat India. I am not sure why spin is always highlighted. Good bowlers depend on their skills and to an extent on the pitch. Legend like McGrath have shown that. Aussies won a test series in India with pace attack. Even the 2001 series was a nail biter. That again was due to McGrath and others. If the Australian bowlers bowl to their potential, Indians will have tough time. The batting lineup is not what it used to be. Is anyone in form? Did not the England bowlers show where we stand? So this is going to be a tough series for India. Indian bowling the less said the better.

  • Rakesh on February 11, 2013, 14:46 GMT

    Neither team is capable of taking 20 wickets, Australia have good pace attack thats it but they don't have even a avarage spinners, England won beacuse of their spin attack in india, But again India is a hopelless team when it comes to Test cricket. Their batsman and bowlers are all mediocore. Tendulkar is just playing to get to 200 test matches. He is done and dusted same can be said about sehwag. Dhoni as a captain in test cricket is joke. i see a tie or a aus win in this series. BCCI thanks for droping Ghambir as he was a giving nice slip cathing practice to the opposition... India's bolwing is mess too the spinners are horrible and pacers don't have enough pace. 5 years from now we will only have three nations playing test cricket. England Australia and south africa.

  • N on February 11, 2013, 13:14 GMT

    Not to worry Ian. Looks like spin is going to be India's achilles heel too. Actually India's bowling is going to be India's achilles heel....and India's opening batsmen....and India's middle order. I'd love for the Indian team to prove me wrong though. I strongly doubt they will.

  • Xxxxx X. on February 11, 2013, 12:50 GMT

    In spite of the Australian team's "raw"ness, I will bet on them. Sehwag's general attitude, recent lack of form and even practice make him vulnerable against genuine pace. Vijay hasn't done anything in the Ranji season although he has scored two hundreds in two Irani trophy matches, but both these were against mediocre bowling attacks of Mumbai and Rajasthan. If Dhawan gets to open with Sehwag, he was quite uncomfortable against genuine pace in WI. A lot will depend on the middle order - only Pujara inspires some confidence there. Kohli didnt do much against England and how sachin fares against the Aussie quicks remains to be seen. He had scored a century against the Railways before the English series but then was quite a flop against the English after that century. Jadeja will be an unknown quantity and Dhoni's struggles in Tests are well known. Indian bowling is hopeless, trundlers bowling around 125k and spinners who couldn't trouble the English. I still fancy Australia winning.

  • pradipto on February 11, 2013, 7:14 GMT

    Australia will rue not bring Steve O'keefe to India. Even if The play Maxwell, it would be 2 Off spinners, taking Lyon as 1st choice spinner. O'keefe would have provided variety and is pretty good with the willow too. Also India will have 5-6 right handers in their top 7. Playing Doherty would weaken the batting line up and bits and pieces spinners like Samit Patil would get hammered.They must play 2 spinners to create ripples in India, even if they are not top notch. On turners, you never know.

  • Dummy4 on February 11, 2013, 6:49 GMT

    Well, I'd say it's gonna be a very hard task for Clarke and Co. to find the playing 11, especially in the bowling department. Johnson and Starc have shown some really good performances lately, plus Johnson can come handy with the bat as well. On the other hand, Jackson Bird bowled brilliantly against Sri Lanka and it will be very hard to deny him a spot. Pattinson always bowls with fire in his belly, whenever he's not injured. And there's our one-man-army in the form of Siddle. By far, he's the only fast bowler to get a place in the playing 11 by default, 'cause Australia always saves him for Test cricket. Their fast bowling department is over the top right now. The only worry is in the spin department-- neither Lyon nor Doherty is a top class spinner; same is the case with all rounders Smith and Maxwell. They can bowl spin but aren't great turners.