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

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