Dice fall favourably for Fawad
Any spin bowler, no matter how accomplished, needs certain elemental circumstances to fall in his favour. He benefits from team-mates endeavouring to help him out by engineering those circumstances, and an absent-minded moment or two by the opposition doesn't hurt either. On a day when Australia disposed of England with unusual ease, the dice fell the way of Fawad Ahmed, and against his opposite number James Tredwell.
Each man harbours ambitions of taking part in the return Test series down under, certainly as understudy if not first choice, and though not a whole lot separated their bowling at Old Trafford, the circumstances in which they operated diverged wildly. By generously choosing to send Australia in on a dry surface and a sun-dappled morning, England's Eoin Morgan did Fawad Ahmed a significant favour, allowing him to bowl in defence of a fat total. In contrast, Tredwell was left exposed by the scoreboard and the situation, unable to settle as the Australians went after him.
While Australia and England are content in their pace attacks and first preferences as Test match spin bowlers, both nations seek greater information about the slow bowlers who might replace Graeme Swann and Nathan Lyon should they be required. In Fawad, Australia have a tremendous story to inspire other new immigrants to play for the national team, but as a bowler he remains minimally tested in international encounters. Tredwell has been Swann's understudy for quite some time, but the question of whether he might take on the role in Australia remains open, particularly given Monty Panesar's recent misadventures.
Perhaps mindful of this, Australia's batsmen targeted Tredwell in the morning, cuffing 60 runs from his eight overs, the bowler gaining only the wicket of Aaron Finch in return. The two overs Tredwell did not bowl spoke much for the effect his expense had on the captain Morgan, who was left looking for other options with only Steve Finn and Boyd Rankin counting as full-timers. Tredwell did not bowl badly, but he lacked the sense of danger Swann creates in Australian minds. They would not mind seeing him again during the home summer.
In addition to runs on the board, a spinner is also aided by the pouching of early wickets with the new ball. Even Shane Warne struggled when, as on the 1998 India tour, he often found himself twirling the ball down at settled and aggressive opening batsmen, their games emboldened by the forging of a safe passage through the new ball phase. This time Mitchell Johnson and James Faulkner knocked the top off the England batting order to leave the hosts 54 for 3 when Fawad was introduced in the 16th over.
Clarke set his field in careful consultation with Fawad. Their backgrounds could not be more different, but as captain and legspinner they must form a tight relationship if Fawad is to play successfully. Empathy is not a quality felt by every captain when dealing with a spin bowler, particularly in recent years in Australia. But in Clarke, Australia have a leader who is able to think nimbly about how best to gain wickets through spin. The circumstances of the innings and the timing - shortly after the end of the Powerplay - were ideal for Fawad.
Scoreboard notwithstanding, he was quickly placed under pressure by two of England's more inventive batsmen. Kevin Pietersen's reluctance to be tied down is well known, and Morgan is similarly proactive, particularly when confronted by a target that if accomplished would have represented England's highest successful ODI chase. So it was that a pair of quite presentable overs from a legspinner seeking to drop onto a length were taken for 23 runs.
To Fawad's fourth ball, Pietersen smeared a flat six over straight midwicket. To his sixth, Morgan reverse swept to the backward point rope. Another paddled boundary in the next over had Fawad furrowing his brow, and Clarke choosing to withdraw his leggie. None of the 12 deliveries had been particularly poor. They were a little flat perhaps, a tad nervous and lacking in bite, but there was nothing of Simon Kerrigan's Oval Test about them. Still, Clarke replaced Fawad with Johnson to seek a wicket, and also to ensure Fawad could go on thinking positively, lest further blows affect confidence not yet unshakeable at international level.
Pietersen and Ravi Bopara had both been disposed of by the time Fawad returned, the former skimming Shane Watson to cover and the latter bunting a return catch from the unobtrusive slow left-arm of Adam Voges. The desperation of the batsmen had increased. Both Morgan and Jos Buttler would try to get at Fawad over his next four overs, essaying slog sweeps, drives and cut shots. But neither would make the contact they desired, and both would sky strokes that sailed narrowly out of the reach of Clarke's fieldsmen. After his first two overs cost 23, Fawad's next four went for 19.
Across those 36 balls, there was little sight of the variation that has flummoxed more than a few Australian batsmen in the nets, or state opponents in the Sheffield Shield last summer. Fawad kept his wrong'un largely hidden, concentrating on subtly varied leg breaks and drawing an error from batsmen straining to slam him to the fence. In this they were plainly unsuccessful, not once collecting a boundary in his second spell.
In that time the required rate climbed from 8.24 to 9.50, and the pressure imposed would result in a rush of wickets. Morgan took the batting Powerplay and immediately perished while trying to heave at Clint McKay, who Clarke had sensibly recalled to the attack. From there, England were without hope and Australia without worry. Fawad would come back for a final over and scoop the wicket of Buttler, attempting another slog at the end of his spirited 75, and spun one fine leg break past the groping bat of Finn before the No. 11 mowed a six and drove a boundary.
Those runs meant that Fawad ended the day with figures eerily similar to those of Tredwell. But it was the visitors who would depart Manchester the happier, not only with the result but also what they had seen of their spin bowler.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here