December 31, 2011 1:15:58 am
The Indian batting line-ups reputation against seam and swing bowling has taken a battering over the last year. After a fortifying tour of South Africa,their fortunes in bowler-friendly conditions have nosedived. Their batsmen were wobbly in the West Indies,dire in England,and discovered in Melbourne that little had changed with the passage of time. The footwork was just as indecisive,the judgment outside off just as questionable.
Watching their travails,the Australians have begun to think of intensifying the trial by pace. On Friday,the selectors announced their 12 for the Sydney Test,adding the fit-again Ryan Harris to the eleven that took the field at the MCG,releasing all-rounder Daniel Christian and left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc.
With Harris recovering fully from the hip injury that kept him out of Australias last four Tests,the team management have an interesting problem on their hands. At the start of the summer,Harris was probably their number one seam option if fit. In all conditions,including the slow,up-and-down decks of Sri Lanka,he had been their best bowler in recent times,bustling in,attacking the stumps from a full length and swinging the ball late.
Problem of plenty
After MCG,though,its hard to see how Harris will get a game. All three quicks bowled brilliantly,so its unlikely that one of them will make way. That could only happen if Michael Clarke drops spinner Nathan Lyon and plays four seamers. Traditionally,this would be heresy at the SCG,Australias most spin-friendly venue. But the captain himself said during the post-match press conference at the MCG that four seamers might be a viable option at Sydney. Thats because in recent times,it hasnt been the spinners paradise of old.
Over the last five Tests there,all of which have produced results,spinners have averaged 43.73 and seamers 32.08. Its a significant difference. Looking at these numbers,any captain would be tempted to pick four seamers,especially the four that Clarke has in his squad. More so considering the ease with which India dealt with Lyon in the first Test.
The SCG of late has had a fair bit of grass on it,so well have to assess conditions. Thats something we have to talk about as a selection panel; it is a good option to have. It is great news for us if Ryan is fully fit. He puts pressure on the rest of the bowlers and gives us an extra string to our bow, he said.
Ryan has had a lot of success for us and hes a quality bowler,so we need to look at the conditions. If it is going to spin or if it is a bit dry we can talk about two spinners,we can talk about an all-rounder,but if it has got grass on it like it did last year there is a chance we could play four fast bowlers, Clarke added.
In the afterglow of MCG,where each of the three seamers was a contender for Man of the Match,it seems a terrific idea,one that could apply unrelenting pressure on their opponents. Why allow them to milk a spinner at one end when they could have another fast,hostile,in-your-face threat to worry about?
Sifting through the scorecards of the five most recent Sydney Tests,however,its clear that the lack of a spinner could hamper teams in the third and fourth innings. In two of those five Tests,spinners played critical wicket-taking roles in the latter half of the game. During the 2007-08 Test,Anil Kumble took four wickets in each innings,while Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke took three each on that dramatic final day.
Two years later,Danish Kaneria and Nathan Hauritz took five-fors in the third and fourth innings respectively. Lyon,if retained,and Ravichandran Ashwin might exert a much greater influence as the Test progresses than they did at the MCG.
Spinvincibles? Not quite
And its not as if India are invincible against spin. The examples of Paul Harris at Cape Town in 2006-07 or Clarke and Symonds three years ago or,more recently,of Graeme Swann at the Oval suggest that even their twinkling feet and conjurors hands can be vulnerable on non-subcontinental tracks offering a bit of turn.
Too much pace,moreover,can get predictable,as Australias failed four-pacer experiment at Perth during Indias previous tour proved. If a big partnership develops,it helps to have a little variety in your attack. At Sydney,where one or two of the Indian batsmen have famously formidable records,variety might be of the essence.
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