South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Durban, 4th day March 9, 2009

Australia miss full-time spinner

The lack of a full-time slow bowler to tie down an end for long chunks of the day while also probing for wickets could prove detrimental to an Australian attack full of young and heavily burdened bodies


The South Africans handled Marcus North's offbreaks with ease © Getty Images
 

Shane Warne's turn was legendary. He could turn a ball at right angles, he could turn a slow news day into a tabloid editor's dream and in Durban three years ago he turned what could easily have been a draw into a memorable Test victory for Australia. In fading light on the fifth day, Warne picked off the final two wickets and finished with six for the innings to deliver Australia the series with a match to play.

Warne has long since departed but the stage is set for a similar display on the final at the same venue. There's just one problem: Australia haven't seen fit to play a specialist spinner so far on their tour of South Africa. Maybe it will matter. It probably won't. But it's usually not until this point in the game that a decision to field an all-pace attack starts to become an issue.

As Bryce McGain sat in the dressing room with little to do but play cards and dream of a baggy-green presentation that may or may never come, as Nathan Hauritz ran drinks on and off the ground and took occasional stints as a substitute fielder, Australia turned to Marcus North and Simon Katich for 18 overs on the fourth day. Neither man looked like getting a wicket while Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers built a 164-run partnership.

It's not that there wasn't spin on the Kingsmead pitch. On the third day South Africa's Paul Harris produced some searching spells with spit and bounce - albeit without luck - that gave a strong indication that a frontline spinner could have had an influence on the final day. It was notable that North and Katich were handled with ease, as when Kallis nonchalantly pulled a pair of fours off the now rarely-seen wrist-spin of Katich.

"The ball does seem to turn and it does make it a lot more difficult to score if you have got a spinner bowling," Hashim Amla said after posting 43 as a stand-in opener. "If he's an attacking spinner then he does give an added option. I guess it's something that Aussies maybe do miss but at the same token in the first innings their bowlers seemed to do a good job."

But there's one key difference between the first innings and the second. In the first, Australia's fast men bowled so well and with such spark that they knocked off South Africa in 57.3 overs. The hosts have already survived 80 overs in the second innings and since being dropped from his first ball, Kallis looked as likely to move as a spectator who has scored a seat in the president's suite at Kingsmead.

It's not a huge concern and it's not likely to cost Australia the match. But the lack of a full-time slow bowler to tie down an end for long chunks of the day while also probing for wickets could prove detrimental to an attack full of young and heavily burdened bodies.

Ben Hilfenhaus entered the match only after convincing the physio that his back soreness was not a major problem, Mitchell Johnson felt flat on the final day in Johannesburg and has had an enormous workload for the past few months and Peter Siddle has a problem with his left foot. Siddle went off the field during the second innings and had his foot restrapped and how he handles the fifth day will be important to Australia's hopes.

"The foot's going all right, obviously a bit sore but I've just got to keep pushing through," Siddle said after delivering 16 overs on the fourth day. "I've got ten days of rest after this test so just keep work through it and see how we go. I've probably just got to get through that first over. Once I get through that I'm fine."

Siddle was the fast man who appeared to have the most energy in the second innings and he delivered some searching balls to pick up two wickets. He was also the man who suffered from having Kallis put down by North at first slip. It proved a costly miss, not least because it could force a lot of extra toil on the young fast bowlers.

It's a particularly key issue given the vast list of injuries in Australia's fast-bowling ranks, with Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Doug Bollinger, Shane Watson and Shaun Tait all sidelined. A spinner may not be necessary to win at Kingsmead and might not be required for the third Test in Cape Town. But if the Durban Test drags into the early evening, Australia might need to think about the workload of their young attack.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo