Why Australia’s batsmen struggled in Sri Lanka

cricket 1A setback of any kind demands a retrospective study. It is a matter of concern for followers of Australian cricket that they have now lost their No. 1 position in Tests.

As a matter of fact, it must have been a rude shock to Australian legends to watch their batsmen struggle against the spinners in Sri Lanka. For, if truth be told, the Australian batsmen, at one time, had mastered top-class spin bowling, thanks to their sheer guts and intelligence in counter-attacking.

There were instances when the batsmen danced down the wicket against the likes of E.A.S. Prasanna and Bishan Singh Bedi. One still remembers the duel between Ian Chappell and Prasanna at the Brabourne Stadium in 1969.

Rare sight

A decade earlier, there was another instance of the art of playing spin at the same venue. The duo of Neil Harvey and Norman O’Neill didn’t let Bapu Nadkarni and Chandu Borde settle down as they danced down the wicket to play their shots. It was such a rare sight to witness. As Ian Chappell says, “It’s better to get stumped by three yards than three millimetres.”

Knowing these facts makes me ponder: Why then did the Australian batsmen struggle against the spinners in Sri Lanka? Weren’t they expecting slow turners? Hadn’t they prepared themselves adequately?

I was at the Bupa National Cricket Centre in Brisbane a couple of months back with four Indian fast bowlers. I watched the Australians practise against spin on a specially prepared subcontinent-style pitch. They all looked technically solid. Although those spinners cannot be compared to the ones they faced in Sri Lanka, there was no hint of struggle.

Need to adapt

Watching them in trouble against the Sri Lankan spinners makes me wonder if the short camp influenced them in some way. It does seem that these short stints under experts have confused them. This again is an example of how adapting to various situations plays a major role at the international level. This comes only with experience. One needs to encounter such situations in matches to learn.

If we consider the Australian system, there are hardly any spinners of international calibre. Also, the pitches are so true that they hardly pose any challenge. When they had to play against top-class spin bowling under pressure, with the pitch turning square, these batsmen were clueless. Barring Steve Smith, they lacked the technique to tackle the spinners.

At times, the players did strategise and attack. But when the attack is premeditated, experienced international bowlers see several loopholes to exploit.

And that was exactly what happened. The batsmen, who decided to play the spinners from the crease, looked amateurish.

In February, the Australians will be touring India. They will encounter similar conditions and equally effective spinners who know how to vary the pace and spin on Indian pitches. The Australians will have a similar short camp again which alone cannot be the solution. If they do not raise the bar against spin bowling, they will struggle against Bangladesh too.

Cricket Australia must act quickly and make radical decisions. There is a need to include at least one spinner from the subcontinental teams in their State and club teams. The structure of the pitches has to be changed as well.

This is the only way to help the batsmen tackle spin. No amount of practice in nets or watching the videos of Indian spinners will prepare them to play in Indian conditions. By playing against these spinners in real matches, they will realise how to bat against them.

Tried and tested approach

This approach has already been tried and tested. Coach Ramakant Achrekar made his boys play many matches. In fact, the boys played matches every day during the summer. He felt a player learns faster to react to the situation in the middle than in the nets. Tendulkar, Kambli, Amre, Muzumdar and many renowned players are his products.

A couple of days prior to the 1987 World Cup semi-final between India and England at the Wankhede stadium, Graham Gooch requested the Cricket Club Of India to organise good left-arm spinners and asked them to bowl a leg-and-middle line. It was centre-wicket practice with a packed leg-side field.

He then kept playing sweep shots. He was prepping to face two left arm spinners, Ravi Shastri and Maninder Singh. In the match, he employed the sweep shot and scored a century that helped England win the match. Tendulkar too underwent a similar exercise before he faced Shane Warne in a home series.

A practical approach, tenacity and practice are very important to attack in any given situation. The facilities at CA’s NCC in Brisbane are outstanding with top-notch technology. However, they are of no use when it comes to handling actual match situations.

Technology can give you a certain amount of assistance to understand the situation, but inputs and game-plans to perform under pressure at the venue can only come with practical experience.

Only time will tell whether the Australians turn this setback into a comeback! (The Hindu)

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