Australian batting vs spin bowling – a perpetual problem
The short term quick-fix would be to give the batsmen a crash course on how to play against the turning ball. They do not need to look too far for inspiration – their skipper Michael Clarke is undoubtedly one of the best players of spin bowling in the world at the present moment. Watching a twenty minute video of him facing a spinner would teach them more than any coaching manual ever could.
Clarke uses his feet to the fullest, dancing down the wicket at the slightest opportunity – thus employing arguably the best possible way to combat spin. By playing in the gaps and continuously rotating the strike, Clarke ensures that he keeps the scoreboard ticking and does not allow the bowler to settle down – and there is nothing a bowler dislikes more than having to change his plan of action every ball.
Also, he is one of the few batsmen who read the spinner off the hand itself. Waiting for the ball to pitch before setting yourself up would be too late – Chris Rogers learnt that the hard way, Swann cleaning him up in the second innings of the Lord’s Test after he left a ball he presumed would turn the other way.
While these may not be fool proof ways of playing a spinner, and may not guarantee a one hundred percent success rate, they are tried and tested methods that could provide temporary relief, and help the Aussies avoid further massacre at the hands of Swann and co. in England.
The long term vision though, must be to produce a generation of batsmen who feel perfectly at home playing spin – the vision must be to produce batsmen who can face wily spinners with the same confidence with which they face medium pacers. And the best way of ensuring that this vision eventually becomes a reality is to produce more quality spinners of their own. However, these spinners won’t magically appear overnight. They need to be bred; they need to be cultivated; they need to be nurtured.
Stuart MacGill, yet another outstanding leggie unfortunate enough to have been born in Warne’s era of dominance, believes that the entire generation of Australian spinners have been “horribly handled and badly coached”. To bring about a transformation in the management of slow bowlers, he accepted a job as a spin consultant in Cricket Australia’s Centre of Excellence in April this year.
If a man is defined by the company he keeps, there appears to be no near future for spinners in Australian cricket. After all, there are no world-class spinners currently playing Down Under. There is no idol for youngsters to look up to in the Australian spin bowling department – there is no real role model. And therefore, there is not much motivation for any young Australian to become a spinner.
Of course, Shane Warne might be the greatest spin bowler to have ever played the gentleman’s game. But, there’s a world of difference between a retired legend and a current hero. Even just a cursory glance at the half-decent Australian spinners show that they are all in their thirties – Krejza, McGain, and Doherty have all played alongside Warne at some point in their careers – and they surely would have picked up some tricks of the trade from the wizard himself.
Last season South Australia’s domestic team (Southern Redbacks) roped in South African spinning all-rounder Johan Botha to captain their side for the Sheffield Shield. Almost instantaneously, a revolution was brought about.
Sharing the dressing room with a seasoned veteran like Botha rapidly raised the overall standards – Cullen Bailey, Tom Cooper and Adam Zampa were suddenly bowling more of wicket taking deliveries and less of long-hops. Meanwhile, hours of facing Botha in the nets paid rich dividends for the Redbacks batsmen, who got priceless training against first-rate, international quality spin bowling.
Following the immense success of Johan Botha’s inclusion, Cricket Australia must open their doors to a greater number of foreign players in the Sheffield Shield and other domestic tournaments. They must give priority to overseas spinners; they must offer lucrative deals that the foreign players just cannot refuse.
Murali Kartik, Harbhajan Singh, Malinga Bandara, and Monty Panesar are all proven performers who do not get opportunities playing for their own countries – these are the types of players Cricket Australia should try to acquire.