CHENNAI: If Monty Panesar and Sridharan Sriram handed over notes of encouragement to the Australian team management on batting against spin in the warm-up game in Mumbai, there might have been a few worried looks also, considering the way their spinners fared againt India A batsmen on Saturday.
While Nathan Lyon accounting for the openers would be good news, the same can’t be said of the combined tally of the off-spinner and left-armer Steven O’Keefe — 31 overs for 131 runs and two wickets. Better than Jason Krejza or Shane Warne’s experience in practice games on previous tours, this wasn’t the best start for a unit about to face a bunch of batsmen raring to go against spinners.
Unless the fast bowlers led by Mitchell Starc make serious impact, spinners will have to bowl a number of overs every day. Lyon being the only one in their ranks with the experience of toiling in these conditions in Test matches, this means hard work for the likes of O’Keefe or Ashton Agar on pitches they are not accustomed to.
“They bowl on pitches that generally don’t help spinners. So they tend to bowl slower and slightly shorter. In India, they have to make the length fuller and be faster through the air.
They also have to get used to SG balls after having played mostly with Kookaburras. These adjustments make things tougher for visiting spinners in India,” said former left-arm spinner Maninder Singh.
According to this member of the India XI in the tied Test against Australia in 1987, inadequate understanding of requirements is the main disadvantage for spinners from England, Australia or South Africa in the sub-continent.
“With Monty and Sriram as advisors, expect them to learn about the pace and length. But learning is something and implementing it for the first time is another. Before predicting how they’ll do, let’s say they face a big test.”
The form and intent of Indian batsmen can also be disconcerting for this inexperienced unit, which has an uncapped leg-spinner (Mitchell Swepson) and two left-arm spinners with a total of five Tests between them (O’Keefe, Agar), other than Lyon.
There is little encouragements for them in the performance of visiting spinners earlier this season. The New Zealanders bowled 320 overs in three Tests for 21 wickets at 3.45 per over. English spinners took 36 wickets in five Tests from 482 overs at an economy rate of 3.60.
Use of feet and a conscious decision to dominate was the hallmark of the way Indian batsmen handled these spinners. Be it going over the top, sweeping or working them around for singles, almost all batsmen attacked the slower bowlers. Shreyas Iyer too did this in the warm-up game on Saturday.
If attacking spinners remains the ploy, Maninder sees a ray of hope for the Australians. “As a spinner, you wouldn’t mind if the batsman is looking to play shots, especially if you don’t have someone who can run through sides. It gives spinners a chance to take wickets.” Before the first Test starts on February 23, the Aussie spin unit will certainly try to develop another plan, instead of relying solely on batsmen to self-destruct.