“The display against the slower bowlers does remain a matter of much concern for Australia, ahead of the World Cup next year”
Even as Australia’s primary spinner Nathan Lyon has been in the news for tightening the grip over the rivals, the Australia batsmen too have been suffering with their own kind of dilemmas against the slower bowlers in the recent past. The side has lost the last three ODI series that they have participated in and their initiation into the fourth did not begin with glad tidings either, as they were bamboozled by the likes of Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid in the first ODI against England.
Aware of Australia’s woes in the recent past, England captain Eoin Morgan unleashed a flurry off slower balls upon his rivals, bowling 138 balls of spin to them in the game. In only two other matches have England bowled more spin to their Ashes counterparts, with both the other instances being in 2018 as well. Sans Steven Smith and David Warner, Australia’s two greatest players of spin, the batting unit were on the backfoot with regards to their technique even before the series began, and this was further enhanced at The Oval.
D’ Arcy Short was expected to make his debut against the Englishman, but his struggles against spin in the IPL were well-documented, which could have been a reason why the Western Australian player missed out of the opening game. He had a run-rate of 6 against spin in the IPL, and even in the Big Bash League, where he as highly successful, he failed to get going against spin, scoring at around 7 runs an over in the tournament against them. Australia’s worries started in the warm-up matches itself, when they failed to read the slower bowls bowled by Sussex and Middlesex, respectively, and even though they did register wins in the two games, they failed to cross the 300-run mark even once.
In the first ODI, this problem was highlighted once again as they were held by a tight grasp by Ali and Rashid. The former began with a wicket in just his fourth delivery as a tossed up delivery by Ali forced Aaron Finch to make room towards the extra cover region, without paying attention to the drift that had been procured. He found the short third man instead, and the psychological fear of facing Ali came rushing over the side. Four balls later, Shaun Marsh, who is comparatively a better player of spin, played a tossed up delivery, that did not have much turn, uncertainty, playing for an arm ball inside the line. As his off-stump was toppled, the spin web continued and though Tim Paine smashed Ali for a four in the very next delivery, the captain was henceforth kept quiet as the spinner did not give any room to the wicket-keeper. Eventually, he was dismissed trying an extravagant reverse sweep after the slips were taken off but Paine failed to realise that the ball still had some venom, as it bounced up to take his top-edge.
From the other end, it was Rashid who was stirring up his own storm, conceding 17 runs in his first 27 balls. Paine found the going tough against him, being unable to read his googlies and failing to connect ball with bat. In an attempt to smash the flashy drives, Paine kept leaving inches between his bat and pad, surviving a clean-bowled on a number of occasions. Rashid tasted his first success when he dismissed Marcus Stoinis with a googly that turned 1.3 degrees outside the off. The batsman had committed to a cut but the bowler cleverly removed any room to prevent him from going big. A sharp catch by Jos Buttler helped and though, Glenn Maxwell stood through the middle overs, his efforts were undone by the lack of preparation his side had against the variations and the wrong un’s that were being thrown towards them.
Rashid picked up his second wicket in the 42nd over, as he had Ashton Agar LBW off a sull leg-spinner. He was unable to read the length of the ball and in an attempt to go for the sweep, he struck the ball plumb in front of the middle stump. It was only two deliveries later, in Rashid’s ninth over that he was hit for his first boundary – a full delivery bludgeoned away by Andrew Tye. Ali conceded three fours and two sixes in his, but he was particularly impressive against Maxwell, bringing him on the front foot and then pushing him on the back, thus refusing to allow him some momentum.
The display against the slower bowlers does remain a matter of much concern for Australia, ahead of the World Cup next year. While the side has attacked spin the most when compared to the other sides, attacking 48% of the slower deliveries, they only average 37.07 against all kinds of slower bowlers since the 2015 World Cup. This average is eighth best average since then, and with Smith and Warner not returning just months before the commencement of the World Cup, the onus is on the young guns to rectify their flaws.