David Warner misses practice following an attack of gastroenteritis
Nathan Lyon was in the line of fire at Chennai. Match figures of four for 244 tells the story.
The off-spinner was off-colour at Chepauk and the lack of variety in the Australian attack was as clear as the sub-continental sunlight on a cloudless day.
Both teams practised under unprecedented security at Uppal on Thursday, but there will be no protection for the Australian spinners in the middle if the Indian batsmen cut loose again.
The lack of depth in the spin department does not give the visitor too many options, even if the surface — with a fair mix of red soil — is expected to assist spin when the second Test gets underway on Saturday. Pace could be a side’s strength, but spin is needed to at least maintain pressure.
There are excited whispers in the visiting media about Fawad Ahmed, the 31-year-old wrist spinner from Pakistan, who is now a permanent resident down under after journeying to Australia in 2010 as an asylum seeker.
Fawad — who many believe has a potent googly to back his leg-spinners — made a strong debut for Victoria recently. He will, however, not qualify to play for Australia under ICC rules until just before the final Test of the Ashes series next English summer.
But then, if Fawad receives an Australian passport now, he could turn out in the baggy green earlier. This, at best, could happen only in time for Australia’s Ashes campaign.
Horses for courses
Horses for courses is a time-tested formula, but Australia at present is woefully short of quality spin. It is baffling how someone even as influential and charismatic as the legendary Shane Warne could not inspire the next generation of spinners in Australia.
Warne donned a crucial role in Australia’s famous 2-1 Test series victory in India in 2004. He prised out 14 batsmen in three matches before missing the final Test in Mumbai; the series had already been decided by then.
Then, Australia relied on a three-pronged pace attack, in addition to Warne’s teasing leg-spin. Jason Gillespie scalped 20 in the series, Glenn McGrath 14 and Michael Kasprowicz nine.
While pace propelled Australia’s campaign in India, Warne’s spin was a critical element. Those were halcyon days for Australia when McGrath’s precision and incision combined with Warne’s delightful bowling in a winning pace-spin partnership.
Those triumphant times are a distant memory for Australia. The side now has a battery of pacemen who can generate extreme pace, but whose effectiveness in sub-continental conditions — where bounce is not an ally — will be put to test on this tour.
The fast bowlers will also need to keep runs under check when spin is in operation. This is where Lyon, lacking accuracy, leaked runs in the first Test. Once the floodgates opened, the Australian pressure dissipated.
This is precisely why Australia could be better served by Xavier Doherty’s left-arm spin. Doherty is quicker through the air and does not quite allow the batsmen to get under the ball for the big hits that Lyon so generously conceded.
At least Doherty can tie up one end while the Australian pace pack hunts from the other. This might create the pressure which could, eventually, result in a few wickets for Doherty himself.
Of course, Australia has the option of playing both Lyon and Doherty. But then, the two are not quite like Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, who had the Indian batsmen in a tangle earlier this season.
The English spin duo — with serious revolutions on the ball and control — ensured that if India prepared a turner, the host would be beaten at its own game. The shortcomings in the Australian spin department will once again embolden India to go for a spinning track.
The dashing David Warner can take on the spinners, but missed practice due to an attack of gastroenteritis. The fitness of its key players will be another concern for Australia going into the pivotal second Test.
Simply put, the Aussies have problems.