Australia derailed by India’s spinners

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    India’s rookie wrist spinners derailed Australia yesterday as the visitors tried to chase down 164 from 21 overs in a rain-shortened match in Chennai.

    The hosts made the bold move of overlooking veteran finger spinners Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja in their squad for this five-match ODI series in favour of leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav.

    Chahal and Yadav had just seven ODIs each to their names before yesterday but expertly exploited a dry surface to bore a hole through Australia’s middle-to-lower order. Aside from Glenn Maxwell, who smashed 39 from 18 balls including 22 off one over from Yadav, the Australian batsmen laboured against spin.

    Before that, it was Indian seamers Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya who combined to reduce Australia to 3-29. Bumrah bowled West Australian all-rounder Hilton Cartwright, who looked liable to get out any ball during his innings of one from eight deliveries.

    Then captain Steve Smith and young gun Travis Head played a pair of woeful shots to gift wickets to Pandya. The Indian all-rounder had earlier rescued India from 5-87 with a daring 83 from 66 balls, a knock which included five sixes and helped the home side make a respectable 7-281.

    A brilliant spell with the new ball from Nathan Coulter-Nile had shocked the hosts. The West Australian quick took three wickets in his first four overs and India could have been reduced to 4-11 if not for a bad drop by captain Steve Smith at slip after Pat Cummins had induced an edge from opener Rohit Sharma.

    Bowling at up to 150kmh, Cummins rushed the Indian batsmen on a surface which offered nice pace and carry with the new ball.

    Australia's Pat Cummins


    Coulter-Nile was not as swift, operating in the 137–142kmh range, but it was his ability to swing the ball which set him apart. Maintaining a perfect seam position, the 29-year-old earned a tantalising shape which elicited a slew of false strokes from the Indian top order.

    First he had Ajinkya Rahane caught by keeper Matthew Wade, then he drew superstar Virat Kohli into an optimistic square drive which flew high towards Glenn Maxwell, who completed an extraordinary one-handed catch. When Coulter-Nile earned another catch for Wade, this time from the bat of Manish Pandey, India were in disarray.

    It was yet another impressive display in coloured clothing from Coulter-Nile, who has performed admirably across his stop-start ODI career, taking 30 wickets at an average of 26. Coulter-Nile’s 17 ODIs have been spread out across four years, partly because of several injury-enforced absences and partly because of the wealth of pace options Australia possess.

    Over his career, he has had to compete for a spot with the likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Mitch Johnson, Pat Cummins, James Faulkner and John Hastings. Coulter-Nile has only earned his opportunity here due to injuries to three of those quicks. Starc and Hazlewood are the top-two ranked ODI pacemen in the world, while Hastings was the second-highest wicket-taker worldwide in ODIs last year.

    Despite his fine efforts to date, Coulter-Nile looks destined to remain on the fringes of the ODI set-up, called upon only when others are injured. With his nasty bouncer, deceptive changes of pace and natural swing, he is a fantastic back-up for Australia to boast. For the remainder of this series, he certainly should be picked ahead of Faulkner, who once again laboured against his bogey side.

    As I argued in my series preview, Faulkner should not be picked when Australia play India, whose batsmen have well and truly figured out the left-armer.

    Australian cricketer James Faulkner bowls during the Australian team training session at the Gabba in Brisbane, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. Australia play England in the first One Day International at the Gabba tomorrow. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Faulkner doesn’t swing the ball, doesn’t earn sharp bounce, and bowls at a gentle pace in the 128-135kmh range. What makes him effective as an ODI bowler is his array of change-ups. But India’s batsmen pick those variations far better than any other side, which is why Faulkner has such a bad bowling record against them – 17 wickets at an average of 47 and a sky-high economy rate of 6.58rpo.

    Yesterday Faulkner proved a liability with the ball once more, giving up 67 from his ten overs, while Australia’s other three quicks (Cummins, Coulter-Nile and Marcus Stoinis) went at a miserly 4.6 runs per over. That’s despite Faulkner being spared having to bowl at the two Indian batsmen who dominate him more than any other, Kohli and Rohit.

    On the positive side, Australia’s other pacemen did a fine job, with Cummins bowling accurately and unlucky not to take one or two wickets, while Stoinis again showed he is a hugely-improved bowler. Stoinis only started bowling regularly in domestic cricket three years ago and in that time has progressed from a rank part-timer to a skilful fifth bowler.

    Unusually for someone who doesn’t possess startling speed, Stoinis’ short ball is his greatest weapon. He deploys it sparingly and when it arrives it does so with an extra level of pace which often surprises the batsman. Yesterday he rushed Rohit with a bouncer which was 5kmh faster than any of his previous deliveries in that over, earning a catch in the deep.

    Then he bowled a slower short ball to Kedar Jadhav, who was through his pull shot too early and lobbed a catch to midwicket. Like Coulter-Nile, Stoinis is only in the side due to an injury, with first-choice all-rounder Mitch Marsh unavailable, but is also making the most of his chances.

    This depth bodes well for Australia just over 18 months out from the next World Cup.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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