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July 22, 2010
News : Australia chase another great escape
Analysis : Déjà vu for inexperienced Pakistan
News : Ponting matches Tendulkar's pace
Matches: Australia v Pakistan at Leeds
Shane Watson was Australia's best bowler in swinging conditions at Lord's and he has been the most dangerous at Headingley. With all due respect to Watson, that is a problem for Australia. Their opening batsman cannot be expected to carry the pace attack and then jog inside, pad up and battle the new ball, especially given Watson's injury history.
Instead of spending the final stages in the field planning ahead to his innings, Watson was striving to bowl Pakistan out himself, and when he went out to bat his concentration wasn't quite there. Within 20 minutes he had fallen to a shot that a Test opener shouldn't play that early, and was bowled trying to dab a late cut through the cordon off Umar Amin's dibbly-dobbly part-timers.
Batting is his primary role in this team, but his 6 for 33 in Leeds was an example of fine swing bowling and it took him to 11 wickets for the series. Between them, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Johnson and Doug Bollinger have nine. And if they keep bowling like they did on the first two days of this Test, Johnson and Bollinger in particular will struggle to add to that tally.
There were lessons to be learnt from the method used by Pakistan's swing trio after they curled their way through Australia on the first day. Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer especially were constantly threatening when they pitched the ball up and encouraged it to swing, perhaps a few curving away and then a surprise in-ducker.
They understood that Headingley is a venue where glancing to the skies is of more value to a fast bowler than looking down at the surface. But when confronted on the second morning by overcast conditions similar to those experienced by Pakistan a day earlier, the Australians instead focused on the middle of the pitch and banged the ball in.
Rarely will they be blessed with more favourable circumstances in which to swing the ball. Asif operates in the low 130kph region and he proved that speed was not important, yet Bollinger and Johnson bent their backs, charged in and were surprised when their efforts were picked off with ease.
The only wicket either of them collected came when Umar Akmal drove unnecessarily outside off and edged behind off a Johnson delivery that moved away with the natural angle. Perhaps he'd watched his own bowlers and assumed the ball would swing in, but recently Johnson's seam and radar have both been scrambled.
Hilfenhaus at least adjusted his method after leaking early runs and looked threatening at times. But it was Watson who stopped the Test from drifting towards a position from which even Pakistan couldn't lose. His two wickets in the over after lunch were decisive.
First it was Kamran Akmal, who edged to slip from a lovely delivery that moved away, and then Aamer, who padded up to one that angled across him and swung back to straighten down the line. Replays suggested the ball would have missed off stump but to the naked eye it looked out.
It was excellent bowling, full enough to allow the ball to swing and straight enough that the batsmen needed to play. At the other end, Bollinger started the next over short of a length - twice. Lessons learnt by Watson, first from the Pakistan bowling effort and then from his own success, were not being taken in by others.
"They got their length very right the majority of the time," Watson said of the Pakistan attack. "The length I try to bowl is that fuller sort of length and try and get some lbws and bowleds if it's not swinging that much anyway. But it's definitely something that I did take out of how they bowled, because they did bowl perfectly under those conditions in the first innings.
"I have been lucky that the conditions have suited me a little bit better. The conditions have swung and it's probably helped me and Ben out more than someone like Mitch or Dougie, who probably bowl that little bit quicker and have probably less chance of swinging the ball."
That is true of their natural bowling styles, and perhaps it won't be an issue on dusty Indian pitches and at home for the Ashes, but the best practitioners adapt to the conditions. One of the greatest, the Pakistan coach Waqar Younis, was surprised that Watson was the only one of the Australians who made full use of the swing.
If his batsmen end up chasing 150, he'll be hoping Australia's strike bowlers continue along the same lines. And lengths.
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