Lehmann defends absence of specialist spin coach
Australia's coach Darren Lehmann has defended the ongoing absence of a former bowler as a specialist spin coach in the Australian setup despite the fact that Ashton Agar and Nathan Lyon are still learning their trade. Australia travel to Manchester on Monday and what they see from the Old Trafford pitch will go a long way to determine whether both Lyon and Agar play, on a surface on which England may well use Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar in tandem.
But the Australian pair collectively managed only 2 for 165 in their tour match against Sussex, although both Agar and Lyon also had catches put down that would have increased their wickets tally. Lyon was too predictable early in the match and was taken to by Rory Hamilton-Brown, but he improved his drift and dip later in the game, while Agar found a few edges against the right-handed batsmen but did little to suggest any major improvements had been made.
Agar, 19, was playing only his 13th first-class match since making his debut in January and Lyon, 25, is still learning after just over two years on the first-class scene. But despite the large number of off-field staff employed by Cricket Australia on tours, there has been no specialist spin coach outside of Steve Rixon, the fielding mentor, who also doubles as a spin coach and talks the bowlers through things like how to bowl to certain fields.
However, while the Australians played in Hove, Rixon was in London working with the batsmen Shane Watson and Chris Rogers, leaving Agar and Lyon in the hands of Lehmann and bowling coach Ali de Winter, a former seamer. Lehmann said coaching spin at Test level was as much about working on plans as anything technical.
"We obviously call on Warnie a bit," Lehmann said. "We'd be mad not to use Shane Warne and talk spin bowling to him. It's not so much technical with him, it's more about the mental side of it, the fields you want for certain players. We use everyone. We don't want too many views. We want to keep it channelled for a young kid. He [Agar] is only 19 but he goes well.
"Steve Rixon is our specialist spin coach and fielding coach so he does that. Working with him on how to get blokes out is pretty much my domain as head coach. I know how you're going to get all the England players out. That's an easy one. We've just got to execute our plans for it, and I think we've done that pretty well over a period of time.
"Ashton probably not so much last Test match but I'm really confident with our plans. We'd be mad to pick him [Agar] if we didn't think he was technically up to it. He's 19, I'd hope he has plenty of room for improvement, the same as Nathan, they're both young kids, although Nathan's played a lot more. They've both got room for improvement."
Lyon was overlooked for the first two Tests as Australia went with Agar instead and while Agar made headlines for his 98 in the first Test at Trent Bridge, his bowling has been less noteworthy. He has created more chances than his two wickets at 124.00 would indicate, but has been nowhere near as threatening as Lyon has for large chunks of his Test career, which has brought him 76 victims at 33.18.
"Would we have this discussion if he'd ended up with three or four at Notts?" Lehmann said of Agar. "Maybe not. But that wasn't meant to be. Things go your way and some things don't. I was impressed with the way he bowled at Notts. I thought he bowled quite well. He had a problem with his hip in the second Test and struggled through that. But he knows he didn't bowl well enough, not the standard we're after so he needs to get it right pretty quickly, we know that.
"You would like more wickets [against Sussex]. I would have hoped to bowl them out under 300 so that was probably the only thing. But having said that it didn't spin too much. Monty got a couple of wickets but didn't get any [in the second innings] so it's not a great track for spin, whereas Old Trafford, I think, it will spin. We need him to perform."
While a dual spin attack is a possibility if the pitch suits it, Australia also have questions over the make-up of their batting order after being bowled out cheaply in both innings at Lord's. David Warner will rejoin the squad after scoring 193 for Australia A against South Africa A in Pretoria, an innings of greater note than any played by the Australian batsmen in Sussex, although Lehmann said that would not guarantee him a place in the side.
"He got 193 and played well, did exactly what we wanted him to do," Lehmann said. "We want blokes to make hundreds and he's ticked that box. Again, we'll have to look at the wicket and what we come up with in the top six. He could bat anywhere from one to six."
Lehmann also defended the decision to leave Rogers and Watson in London to work in the nets rather than playing in Hove, and said he was more keen for the other members of the squad to have a hit in match conditions. Phillip Hughes and Ed Cowan made half-centuries in the first innings against Sussex without going on to triple figures, and Lehmann said it was disappointing that they had not taken the opportunity.
"I would have liked them both to make big hundreds," he said. "When you get in that scenario you should be making big hundreds but they know that, we spoke about that. But they played well and got through some tough times."
Australia will train at Old Trafford on Tuesday and Wednesday, ahead of the third Test, which they must win to keep the series alive.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here