How Indian minds helped Australia overcome spin demons
Who would have thought of Australia taking the lead against India, in their own backyard, on a turning track in Pune? Who would have thought of Australia defying heat and Pakistan spinners and bat out close to 140 overs to save a Test match in Dubai?
Modern day cricket talks more about the process and not to worry about the result. A bunch of Australia A boys, who were out on an exposure trip to India, started the process in 2015 in Chennai. The mission for the next generation was to overcome the ‘spin demons’ in their minds.
The man in charge was former India cricketer Sridharan Sriram. Wearing the Australian green, Sriram, a left-arm all-rounder, was right at it.
Sriram, with tons of knowledge about sub-continental pitches and a person who has an eye for spotting talent in Indian domestic circuit, was always in the ears of the Australian batsmen. It included Usman Khawaja as well, the new poster boy of Australian cricket.
Australia ‘A’ stunned an India ‘A’ side that featured the likes of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Karun Nair, Shreyas Iyer, Abhinav Mukund, Pragyan Ojha, Shardul Thakur and Varun Aaron by 10 wickets.
Sriram had well and truly set the process in place. From there on, Sriram was part of most of Australia’s sub-continent trips as their spin consultant.
Cricket Australia ensured it wasn’t just the national team or the ‘A’ team that learned the art of dealing with spin and bowling spin in spinner-friendly conditions.
The former India cricketer frequently traveled Down Under throwing light on nuances of tackling spin to the junior Aussie cricketers at the National Cricket Centre in Australia.
It seemed even Cricket Australia were focussed on the process and were not worried about the results. Australia was blanked 0-3 by Sri Lanka in 2016, lost 1-2 to India in 2017, they somehow managed to draw the Test series 1-1 in Bangladesh later that year and yet the process went on.
Practice makes perfect. Glenn McGrath used to say ‘perfect’ practice is always the key. Sriram ensured every Australian practice session was perfect.
Sriram’s approach was like... “Lunch session; Marcus (Stoinis) let’s have a sweeping session...Tea break; let’s have spot bowling sessions”
Not just the batting unit but the Australian spinners too benefitted by Sriram’s presence. The former India cricketer helped the Aussie spinners adapt during the course of a Test match where the nature of wickets changes drastically.
During the Pune Test in 2017, Sriram guided left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe get his radar during the course of the match.
“During the break, I knew he (O'Keefe) was a little disturbed. He said I think I need to have a bowl with you in the centre. He then said that he was little nervous to start because he was in his comfort zone and trying to bowl as he would do in Australia. But, I said what do you think you need on this wicket' and he said 'I need to go a little bit rounder and quicker and I just said to him to go for it,” Sriram said then. O’Keefe returned with match figures of 12/47!
However, the biggest gain for Australia was the 42-year-old IPL scout and Delhi Daredevils’ assistant coach’s ability to rope in net bowlers who could replicate what the Australian batsmen would face in a match situation.
Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal threat? Sriram would bring in a chinaman from Kerala KK Jiyas and a leggie in M Ashwin from Tamil Nadu.
They kept training for 10 days on turning tracks in Chennai. There would be dry tracks, finger spinners bowling flatter extracting bite and turn.
Sriram, a left-arm spinner himself, would at times send down those low, slow deliveries which grip the surface.
The next generation Australian cricketers would visit the MRF Pace Foundation and learn to deal with spin, sub-continent conditions with a few practice matches.
Nearly 10 days ahead of the Pakistan challenge in UAE, Sriram ensured they had two wrist spinners Jiyas and Pardeep Sahu, a leggie, both with decent IPL exposure, bowling ball after ball against the Aussie batsmen.
It was more about replicating the likes of Yasir Shah and Shadab Khan. Head coach Justin Langer “loved” the presence of the Indian spinners during the Australian training session.
"It's easy to come up with ideas, anyone can come up with all these ideas but to actually get the Indian spinners to come and be with us, I love that. I love that we had a plan and we executed, hopefully, we get some benefit out of it,” was quoted as saying by Cricbuzz.
Playing out 140 overs was probably the best result Australia could have obtained by following the process over the last few years. Langer, Sriram, Cricket Australia and the Aussie players would hope that more positive results will follow post the Dubai high.