After Australia's heavy defeat in the Chennai Test, the pangs of an unsuccessful search for Shane Warne's successor become sharper.
As Sachin Tendulkar walked into bat on the fifth morning of the Chennai Test against Australia, the legendary cricketer faced one of the easiest tasks of his long career.
India needed 14 to win, with eight wickets in hand, to establish a 1-0 lead in the series. One would have expected a risk-free approach from Tendulkar as he guided the team home with Cheteshwar Pujara.
And he did that.
Having dismissed Virender Sehwag on the previous delivery, Lyon could have been forgiven for feeling a tad exuberant as he ran into bowl to the little master. The result: A six to long-on.
While many were still discussing whether Tendulkar had ever begun a test innings with a shot over the boundary, the following delivery was dispatched in a strikingly similar manner. No risk at all!
As I watched the highlights of the day’s play, I was unwittingly reminded of the battering a half-fit Shane Warne took upon his visit to India in 1998.
Though the leg-spinner confounded many a batsmen during his career, his record in tests in India continues to remain a sore point. Warne took 34 wickets in nine Test matches here at a poor average of 43.11.
The strike rate is unimpressive too, 81 in India as compared to his career record of 57.4.
Yet to judge Warne’s value to Australian cricket solely on the basis of his numbers here, or anywhere for that matter, would be nothing but foolhardy.
The 43-year-old maverick’s presence in the dressing room alone was enough to torment opposing captains and players endlessly. Arguably, in addition to McGrath, the search for Warne’s replacement will remain elusive too.
Ever since the duo’s retirement, Australia has ceased to be an irresistible bowling force. However, it remains a competitive side and in light of its recent comprehensive defeat to India in Chennai, it’s easy to forget that Australia has lost only one Test series since Michael Clarke was appointed captain after the 2011 World Cup.
Moreover, despite the absence of McGrath, Australia’s current pace battery is formidable and boasts enough variety to trouble the world’s best. In the spin department, however, the cupboard lies bare.
Since Warne’s retirement in early 2007, 11 spinners have tried to fill the void in 65 tests. Of the 11, only Nathan Hauritz (16 matches) and Nathan Lyon (20) have been selected for more than five contests.
Interestingly, in eight of those 65 tests, Australia fielded an all-pace attack while two contests featured two spinners, in 2008 in India and last year in West Indies.
It’s important to understand the context of those matches in which Australia did not play any spinner. Though no common pattern emerges in all the eight tests, such decisions were usually made when either the match was a series-decider or Australia had lost a preceding Test.
While such a gambit seemed to work in the immediate match, Australia damaged its chances by persisting with a similar bowling line-up in the following Test. The losses in Ashes 2009 and 2010-11 are cases in point.
Though Australian captains could rely on Shane Warne to turn the match around in the past, Ponting remarkably preferred to pick an extra paceman over a spinner in crunch contests.
This, however, is not an indictment of his captaincy. Rather, Ponting’s troubles with the search for Warne’s replacement find much resonance in the current debate on playing two spinners in the ongoing series against India.
With few options at his disposal, Michael Clarke selected, with much justification, only Lyon for the Chennai Test. Though Australia was outplayed by a more efficient Indian side, the arguments in favour of playing a second spinner in Doherty at Hyderabad remain unconvincing.
As Brydon Coverdale recently noted in an article on the Cricinfo website, “The only Australian squad to win a Test series in India in the past 40 years, Adam Gilchrist’s 2004 outfit, used only one spinner in each match. In that series, 63% of Australia’s wickets came from fast men. Another pace-oriented team, South Africa, has drawn its past two tours of India and 79% of its wickets came from the quick bowlers.”
Hence, it’s important for the rest of the Aussie quicks to follow James Pattinson’s example, who took a five-wicket haul in Chennai, and step up to the plate in Hyderabad. If they fail to do so, Australian fans will have to find solace in YouTube videos of a certain Shane Warne.