Kuldeep Yadav vindicated the faith of the team management by picking up three wickets on the third day and pushing Australia on the back foot. He did so by sticking to the rudimentary basics of bowling slow through the air and pitching them up.
In these pages, this writer had not been very appreciative about the ploy of going in with two spinners in Sydney. The argument was that spinners have not been successful on the ground for more than a decade, and playing two tweakers meant simultaneously deviating from the success of the three-pace-bowler strategy and also pitchforking a bowler desperately short of red-ball cricket practice into the mix.
In retrospect, when we look at the match situation at the end of Day 3, we find that Kuldeep Yadav has picked up three top-order wickets in 24 overs. Besides, Ravindra Jadeja has struck twice as well, which means five of the six wickets to fall were due to the spinners. There is no denying that the ploy has worked so far, and the criticism has been replied to with appropriate deeds in the middle.
Part of it was of course helped by the inability demonstrated by the Australian batsmen to build an innings in recent times. This looks precariously close to becoming the first time in 8 years that a home series will end without a hundred by any of the Australians.
The Australian batsmen had chalked up four centuries last year. Besides, in any calendar year in which the great cricketing nation has played more than 10 Tests, the number registered by centurions is the lowest. Taking the 10-Test criterion, this is the lowest centuries per Test the Australians have ever registered. The previous lowest was in 1902, which included a wet summer in England.
|Australia’s batting owes|
|2018 : Australians scored 4 Test centuries, the lowest in any 10-plus Test year|
|0.4 : The nos of hundreds/Tests in 2018, the lowest in any 10-plus Test year.|
|0.42 : Previous lowest hundreds/Test for Australia (5 in 12 in 1902)|
These tell us where the problem lies.
The ways the absolutely set batsmen got out today also underlined the lack of the sort of application that goes to build a Test innings. Usman Khwaja skipped down the track to hit Kuldeep over mid-wicket, a ghastly slog given the circumstances. Marcus Harris played a lame cut on to his stumps after doing all the hard work to reach 79. Shaun Marsh inexplicably hung his bat to one from Jadeja that held its line. Marnus Labuschagne fell to the trap in short mid-wicket that had been set for hours. Travis Head also came down the track to hit a full-toss back to Kuldeep. And although the ball that got Tim Paine was excellent in its dip and sharp turn, the adventurous drive attempted by Australian skipper did a lot to hasten his downfall. Yes, the ball was good and spun more than any had done so far in the Test, but the stroke attempted by Paine was eminently avoidable. The stationary feet also contributed immensely to his dismissal.
As usual, during his brief stay at the wicket so far, Pat Cummins has looked far more accomplished than many of the top order batsmen and that is quite a statement about the top order of the batting.
But, at the same time, we must appreciate that Kuldeep bowled brilliantly all day. There was a period when Harris did get on top of him, and hit him for three boundaries in an over. But once breakthroughs were made and he got into his groove, the excellent methods of simplicity and sticking to the basics helped him hold sway over the tentative Australian batsmen.
There has been some wear and tear on the pitch, but nothing that is not quite manageable. Kuldeep, no doubt short on Test match or even First-Class cricket practice, handled things excellently by sticking to the spin-bowling basics of pitching it up, sending them down in a loop, and bowling slow through the air.
Indeed, about two-thirds of his deliveries were pitched up, which is hugely different from the rest of the spinners. Marnus Labuchagne’s exquisitely floated full-tosses helped him bowl about two-fifth of his near nonsensical offerings in the zone of the batsmen. But the front-line spinners, Lyon and Jadeja, have been prone to keep their lengths appreciably shorter.
Kuldeep, however, with his many variations, kept probing the batsmen, making them play off the front foot and keeping them guessing about the turn.
The other important feature of his bowling was the speed, or the lack of it. Unusually for a man used so frequently in the T20 format, Kuldeep bowled at least 10 kmph slower than the other spinners in the Test match (courtesy CricViz) . Something that traditional coaches always insist upon.
The pitch did not really help him a lot. But he did get some turn. The one that dismissed Paine turned a lot. It was this mix of giving it air, bowling them slow and pitching them up that resulted in the spin.
That Head fell in trying to drive a full-toss is testimony to the degree of uncertainty he exercised on the psyches of batsmen. Keep them guessing and the most steadfast of them commit elementary mistakes.
Sticking to these basics have resulted in the excellent figures that we can see against his name at the end of the day.
Yes, the Australian batsmen were far from decent. But we cannot take anything away from Kuldeep’s excellent efforts throughout the day.
There should be no hesitation in accepting that the faith shown by the captain and the team management has been vindicated.