Slow and steady Copeland winning the pace race
For a long time Trent Copeland's lack of pace was held against him. Australia's captain Michael Clarke now believes this very quality can aid the tourists in their pursuit of pressure and wickets against Sri Lanka in the first Test in Galle from Wednesday.
Clarke and Greg Chappell, the selector on duty, have often spoken of "combinations" as they seek to establish the best XI with which to trouble the Sri Lankans. Copeland appeared an unlikely addition to the Test team when he departed from Sydney, considered behind at least Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle in the order of preference.
But a match haul of 6 for 61 from 28 overs against Sri Lanka Board XI at P Sara Oval, while Siddle went wicketless and Johnson was rested, has all but vaulted Copeland into the team for Galle, and Clarke said the seamer's tightness and lesser velocity would ideally complement the faster men.
"It is very important, because what it allows you to do is build pressure from one end and attack a little bit more from the other," Clarke said. "It's a huge string to his bow to be honest and I think for the team, and I say this with the ultimate respect, it's nearly like his lack of pace could be a really good thing for us.
"He just nibbles and just wobbles the ball enough [so] that it doesn't come onto the bat like Sidds, Ryano and Mitch, who are bowling 140kmh, [and] kiss the wicket and come on quite quick. There's just enough nibble there; in this game, the attack we had, he complemented it very well I thought."
In February, Chappell had suggested there were players in the Sheffield Shield, who felt Copeland "might struggle to back it up this year" for New South Wales, a reference to the fact that few bowlers of medium pace can keep asking questions of opponents without being brazenly attacked. However Copeland's lines have not wavered, proving that bounce and movement, as much as speed, are the keys to troubling good batsmen.
"He did his thing, nothing more, nothing less," Clarke said. "He managed to find the edge a few times, which is really nice, and as a captain it feels comforting to set fields to that type of bowling.
"He got a few of the players out, who are going to be playing in the first Test, so that obviously helps. And I like that he hasn't come in and tried to do too much. He's done what he's been doing for NSW for the last few years now. I think that takes courage, as a first-class player, when you come into the Australian team to not try and do anything different."
Difference was a more prominent theme as Clarke observed his slow bowlers Michael Beer and Nathan Lyon. Clarke spent considerable time shuffling his fields as he developed ways to attack and defend with two spinners he is not overly familiar with, and said he and the selectors had to decide which qualities they preferred.
"They're completely different bowlers," Clarke said. "Lyon probably bowls with a lot more loop and gets a lot more shape. Beer bowls a bit faster and gets it into the wicket, so they've both got strengths. I thought Beery bowled really well when it started to spin a bit, especially to the left hander.
"He could throw it into the rough and as we saw, a few balls went through the gate. I'm impressed with both of them. As a combination they're very good together because they're two completely different bowlers. If we have to pick one it's going to be a tough selection."
Though Beer and Lyon were patchy in their performances and though Copeland, Harris and Johnson would all appear to have enough quality and adaptability to ask questions on Sri Lankan pitches, Clarke refused to rule out playing two spinners in Galle.
"No way, I think it was good for both of them to play this game," Clarke said. "I thought they bowled really well as a combination. You've just got to see the conditions, I think that's probably the fairest way.
"I need to see what the pitch is like and we the selectors need to work out what's our best XI to try and win the game. That's what is important to me - my goal is not to come here and have three draws. We are here to win the series so we've got to pick the best eleven players to win the game."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo