Sri Lanka v Australia, 1st Test, Galle August 30, 2011

Can video unravel the mystery spinner?


Australia's batsmen have gorged themselves on video footage of Sri Lanka's attack in the lead-up to the first Test in Galle. In doing so they have avoided the trap of watching wickets taken by Rangana Herath, Ajantha Mendis and Suraj Randiv, preferring to concentrate on freeze-framed vision of each bowler's hand position.

England prepared for the 1994-95 Ashes series by watching tapes of Shane Warne befuddling New Zealand and South Africa's batsmen, leaving Mike Atherton's team in a state of considerable anxiety when they finally encountered Warne himself - there were also the memories of the 1993 series to contend with.

Bewitched by the mesmeric nature of the footage, the Englishmen were routed by Warne in the first two Tests. Michael Clarke, the Australia captain, said his team had not made the same mistake as they sought knowledge of bowlers only Ricky Ponting has encountered in a Test in Sri Lanka before.

"We haven't looked at too many wickets," Clarke said. "We've been [mostly] stopping the footage and looking at what they do with their hands. Mendis, for instance, bowls a faster legspinner; he's got an offspinner out the front of the hand, and then he's got a wrong'un out the back of the hand.

"So we just want to get more [on] what's coming out of the hand … the result of the delivery is irrelevant, in my opinion; the more you have seen somebody, surely has to be some sort of an advantage when you know you're going to face them.

Not just the spin, their quicks have bowled pretty well in these conditions. We haven't seen the tall left-armer [Chanaka Welegedara] who played in England and did pretty well, we haven't played against him, so we've looked at him as well. We're just trying to tick all boxes to give each individual batsman and bowler the best chance to have success."

There is statistical background to suggest Australia's senior batsmen have a greater chance of success against spin than pace, and Clarke said he, Ponting, Shane Watson and Michael Hussey had been doing their best to advise the likes of Phillip Hughes and Usman Khawaja.

"I feel I'm most comfortable against spin, but I think it has got me out more often than fast bowling in my career," Clarke said. "So it's a weird one; there are probably more scoring opportunities against spin, but there's obviously more risk as well.

"So I think our preparation, coming in [to the Tests], has been really good for our top six batsmen; five apart from Hughesy [Hughes] and Uzzy [Khawaja] have played in the one-dayers, so I think that [it] helps, seeing a lot of their spin bowlers in these conditions ... you couldn't ask for better preparation.

"We've looked at a lot of footage as well, which has shown Uzzy and Hughesy the different variations, which I think is an important part of your preparation. It's still not the same as getting out there facing them, but it gives you a good starting point, in that you can actually see the differences in their hands for their normal ball or their doosra.

"We know spin is a huge part of this series, and we know we need to have success against it to win the series."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 31, 2011, 7:10 GMT

    Its not about seeing him bowl in videos but picking him when he bowls. Even if you know what happens when a carrom ball is bowled if you pick too late you will still be doomed. It takes a while when a different type of bowler arrives but due to Video technology people understand it faster and so its tougher for bowler to remain mysterious beyond a point. Which is why hats off to Warne who even in his IPL days post regular retirement was a force to reckon. He constantly worked on minds of batsmen leading to a dismissal. So a mystery bowler at the end has to evolve into an intellgent bowler to be able to do well consistently over a period of time.

  • Nilantha on August 31, 2011, 7:05 GMT

    People seem to forget that when we toured England in april,its was really cold and ao its not surprising mendis didn't do well...herath was clearly selected ahead of him in tests as he is a better bat and as we were playing on wickets made to favour seam bowling,we had to bolster the batting.. as for the Indian fans commenting,when we toured England,we had worse conditions with a poorer batting line up but we didn't get white washed? Suddenly gone quiet?

  • Wala on August 31, 2011, 4:57 GMT

    It is so sad to read few of these comments. Mystery or not Sri Lankan spinners will do a good job. They normally bowl more than 70% and make sure the opposition do not dominate the game. That's the reason why SL do not lose test series in 4-0 or 3-0. It is ok to lose a test series if the opposition is really good. But only a unprofessional side can lose all the test matches in a series. So all of you can shovel your comments somewhere and pray that your one day series will not end with a 5-0 result.

  • Richard on August 30, 2011, 22:42 GMT

    Same old story with 'mystery' spinners (Iverson, Gleeson)-they have a good run for a while then the 'mystery' is dispelled, which is precisely why they're such a rarity. Having said that, he'll probably run through us like a dose of salts now.

  • david on August 30, 2011, 19:44 GMT

    iv not sure what to make of mendis in england in june in the 1 test he looked very average, so much so from the tv his deliveries did not do much and on commentry bumble would say he comes SL 4th seamer. he had a good 1st test against india then they seemed to play him very easy after that. dpk

  • django on August 30, 2011, 18:02 GMT

    I think Mendis needs the pitch to have alot of turn for him to be effective. He will get this in SL with their home conditions. He will do well but I think his international prospects are limited if he bowls anywhere other than the subcontinent. Similar to Kumble but Kumble had alot of other weapons that made him serviceable when the pitch was not turning. I still think facing Kumble in his prime on a turning pitch was the hardest test in cricket. I think Steve Waugh does aswell which is a pretty good wrap.

  • Rimtu on August 30, 2011, 16:52 GMT

    Aussies sometimes praise an opposition player, simply because they're too nice... this is one of those cases. They know they've got this team figured out... Is Mendis still mysterious??? No, I don't think so. The Indian team has gone through the full cycle against him. They first failed against him miserably. Then they took him to the cleaners. So, there's no more mystery. Randiv might be a good spinner but nothing mysterious there. Herath has been conquered many times over by the Aussies.

    Only demons for the Aussies in my opinion are the pitch (will favour spin, so doesn't matter which joker bowls ball will spin) and the weather (heat, humidity etc. etc.).

    I can tell you right now what SL will do. They will be setting up camps to pray to the lord so Dilshan wins the toss every time. And every time he wins the toss he will choose to bat. They will try to pile on the runs in excess of 500. Then unleash their spinning pitch specialists (more accurate than calling them spinners).

    My 2c

  • Dummy4 on August 30, 2011, 16:28 GMT

    We Englishmen played Mendis with relative ease when he was over here in May and we aren't known for playing well against spin. The Aussies should be fine if they just take it ball by ball.

  • Dummy4 on August 30, 2011, 15:58 GMT

    Mendis is highly over-rated. He was a mystery initially alright. But as soon as batsmen figured him out, especially Indians, they made a mince meat of him. I remember Sehwag pounding him all over the ground and in the aisles of Sri Lanka when he hit his double century there. Bowlers with unique actions are always a mystery at first, be it Paul Adams, Lasith Malinga(great at yorkers but now not quite the threat he was earlier with the newer ball, even Murali looked unplayable with his doosra initially but towards his retirement, he was clobbered all over the ground by the likes of Gambhir. Even in his last world cup, he wasn't quite the threat he has been over the years. I just believe Clark will play Mendis well as he is the best player of spin bowling in Aus, even a determined Ponting can take him to the cleaners.

  • Dummy4 on August 30, 2011, 15:33 GMT

    A very interesting article. I wonder why Ajantha was dropped for so long-he hardly featured against England (if he did at all), and the far inferior Herath was favoured. God knows why as Ajantha is an incredible talent, and natural successor to Murali. Not playing him was and is a criminal waste of a massive talent. Let's hope he is a regular fixture in the Sri Lanka first XI from now on. Even though, being English, I am fairly neutral (COME ON YOU LIONS! ;)), although I too look forward to this series immensely. SL on their patch, against a new look Aus (with some downright bizarre sections-I'm thinking in the spin department, and putting Katich in the file marked 'finished', whilst sticking with other 'oldies' like Hussey, and picking the hopeless Hughes!) should be a great contest.

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