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Hauritz returns to where it all began

Nathan Hauritz and India go back a long way. It was here almost six years ago that his Test career started ... and nearly ended

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Eye on the ball: Nathan Hauritz delivered Australia a thumping victory, Australia v Pakistan, 1st Test, Melbourne, 5th day, December 30, 2009

Nathan Hauritz wasn't expecting to make his Test debut in India six years ago; nor to be back again as Australia's No. 1 slow bowler  •  Getty Images

Nathan Hauritz and India go back a long way. It was here almost six years ago that his Test career started ... and nearly ended. It was the Mumbai Test played on the raging turner where he took the wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, but in his own words, "after they had taken me down pretty easily". Those runs helped India erase the deficit and win the incredible Test. Hauritz was sent back to first-class cricket where he spent the next four years. He never really thought he would be Australia's lead spinner again, leave alone coming back as one to the land where it all began.
Hauritz remembers the debut and the circumstances around it well. "Warney got hit on the thumb in the training on the day before," he says. "It looked innocuous, not too bad. I didn't find out until the morning that his thumb was actually cracked and broken. The first day was washed out. I didn't bowl until late in the next day. And the match was over very quick."
Hauritz remembers not being mentally ready. The instant memory of that match, in fact, is Michael Clarke's 6 for 9 on a pitch that should have suited Hauritz immensely. "Training-wise I was ready," he says. "Mentally I was still developing. I was only 23 years old. I was put into that tour because there weren't too many offspinners around. I had been bowling well in one-day cricket too."
The wickets of Tendulkar and Laxman came at a price. "Sachin hit me for the biggest six of my life," Hauritz says. "Pup remembers he hit me into the sightscreen, and the dirt in the sightscreen looked like an ant - it was that far away.
"Look it was a great thrill to get those guys in my first Test. It was a long time ago, but those memories will stay with me. I still can't forget the feeling of being in the huddle after getting Sachin out."
The next four years were spent outside the team. "During that period, Shane Warne was playing, there were some other good spinners around, and I never really looked at myself in that way [leading the spin attack in the future]," Hauritz says. He doesn't blame that debut Test for a slow start to his career. "I was very fortunate to play that Test. There weren't too many spinners around. And I got the opportunity. And it was great to play. At the end of the day, my bowling wasn't up to standard in first-class cricket in Australia, and I had to go back and become a better bowler. It took me four years to get to that stage where I could play at the next level."
As it would happen with the great Australian team of that era, the comeback, too, started through injury, this time to Jason Krejza's ankle. "I was fortunate to have played a Test again, through injury and all that, but since then the bowling is improving all the time," Hauritz says. "And when your bowling is improving, the confidence grows. To be the spinner going into this Test series, I would never have thought. It is a great achievement, but at the end of the day it doesn't mean too much if you don't do well."
The Hauritz on this tour is six years older, smarter, a better bowler. Still, he hasn't got off to a desirable start. Piyush Chawla, a legspinner and a useful batsman in the lower order, danced down to him and lofted him with ease in the tour game against the Board President's XI. Ajinkya Rahane, the Mumbai batsman, repeated the dose in the second innings.
It's not that Hauritz wasn't prepared for an assault. "I don't think you can have a better place to bowl spin," Hauritz says. "You are bowling against the best players of spin in the world, but also on wickets that will help spin. It will be a really tough challenge, but it is something that I have always wanted to be part of. It is going to be fun, but it's going to be really tough too."
Spinners better than Hauritz have come to India and have failed to have fun. Numerous others have had their careers destroyed here. Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan, considered two of the best spinners of all time, averaged in the mid-40s here. Hauritz is not likely to even be compared to those bowlers. He has neither the mystery nor the amazing confidence. Neither the dark tricks nor a reputation that could create some doubt in the batsmen's mind.
Hauritz is a straight-talking, simple offspinner, who relies on working hard. There is even a hint of awe when he talks about the Indian batting line-up, a sense of hoping for the batsmen's human errors. In this self-confessed greatest test of his, Hauritz will have done well if he has some fun over the next two weeks in Mohali and Bangalore. It's going to be tough, as he says. Really tough.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo