Australia’s final frontier

The art of playing spin is still a mystery for Aussie batsmen. Picture courtesy: AP

By Bastab K Parida

Mark Taylor’s team got annihilated while Steve Waugh famously quoted that winning in India would be their last Frontier. Ricky Ponting made three visits too but could not achieve the desired. An unlikely candidate in the form of Adam Gilchrist stepped in too, as the captain in 2004-05 and won the series 2-1 for Australia, perhaps Australia’s biggest achievement in the Asian subcontinent in almost two decades. Spin has always been a headache for the Aussies and the problems have only been magnified in the current series against a hapless Lankan side which had lost its last five of the six test series it had featured in.

A young debutant in the form of Michael Clarke on a turner at Bangalore in 2004 had kept seasoned campaigners Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh at bay to pave the way for a historic series win against India. But after that it has majorly been a poor string of performances from the kangaroos in the Asian sub-continent. They won a test in 2011 to win the series against a better team that the Lankans were. Their inexperience against quality spin makes their batting spineless while their top spinner, Lyon gets reduced to a toothless weapon who in Australia picks a bagful of wickets but in favourable conditions like that in the sub-continent, fails to shine.

The Indian subcontinent is completely alien as compared to the the bouncy tracks of Australia. Unfortunately, the spinners of Australia haven’t been able to turn the ball to deceive the Lankan batsman at a time when the spin trio of Sri Lanka in the veteran Rangana Herath and young Dilruwan Perera and Lakshan Sandakan picked wickets like picking apples in the garden.

The inability to pick the slider has cost the Aussie batsmen their wickets more often than not. When four out of six balls turned, it was the slider or the top spinner that deceived many batsmen in the first couple of games. With the Decision Review System on offer, The Lankans were more assured than ever before. The likes of Mitchel Marsh, Usman Khawja, Peter Nevil have failed miserably to apply themselves at the crease, forget long enough. Whereas the seniors like Warner and Smith failed to inspire the batting without getting too many good scores to their name. The lack of rotation of strike and overtly defensive methods have only pushed them further into their shells, propelling the powers of the Lankan spinners.

Post Warne retirement, Australia have not yet been able to find their go-to-spinner. Lyon has failed in the sub-continent in multiple outings while Zampa is yet to be tried out in the longer format of the game, the latter having made a mark in the shorter format of the game already.

Amidst all the major blips, the success of their lead paceman Mitchel Starc in conditions more assistive towards spin would have inspired some confidence. With 17 wickets to his name, he is the highest wicket taker in the series till now.

Australia won almost everywhere in the last two decades. This decade though, it has been tougher for sides to win away from home. Australia are no stranger to that. In 2013, when Clarke’s men were pitted against an Indian side which was busy fighting their own demons after being trampled by England in their own den, inexperience was put as a major reason for their 4-0 debacle, their first clean sweep in a long time.

In late 2014, Pakistan too brushed aside the Aussies and defeated them in both the matches in the Middle East. While the process of rebuilding is still on, Australia will need to hasten it well, not to be humbled again by India later next year.

(Bastab K Parida is a Cuttack based sports writer. He can be contacted via Facebook here)