Any sport needs characters who appear larger than life.
Sriram Sridharan, the man hired to aid Australia on the slow, spin-friendly pitches at the T20 World Cup, says the way Australian batsmen tackle the spinners in the middle overs will be pivotal to their chances of winning the World Cup.
Sriram has already joined the Australian squad in South Africa to assist with the preparation ahead of the World T20. Over the last few months, he has been in constant contact with the Australian hierarchy about selection and tactics ahead of the competition in India later this month.
“I can say I have been in touch with the coaching staff for the last few months,” Sriram said.
“Consulted is probably a strong word but let’s say I have been kept in the loop with the all the selections. It is a very good side and it has the potential to win the World Cup.
“The batting order is strong, it has plenty of power hitters. It has depth in the batting with Mitch Marsh and James Faulkner so that is a very formidable team.”
The greatest debate over the selection was the omission of Cameron Boyce for Adam Zampa, but Sriram feels it would have been difficult to accommodate both wrist spinners.
Sriram worked with both Zampa and Boyce during the Australia A tour in August last year, and felt it was a marginal call to pick the South Australia leggie. He also mentioned that finger spinners will need to play an important role at the World Cup.
“I had worked with both [Zampa and Boyce] but in India you need a finger spinner, even in the shortest format of the game. Generally one of the finger spinners just tends to hold up an end with accuracy while the other attacks. Look at Jadeja, he is super accurate while Ashwin attacks. So two attacking leg spinners would have been a challenge.”
Sriram went on to state Glenn Maxwell or Ashton Agar could potentially have a vital role to play as well.
“Ashton Agar will be important or even if it’s Maxwell as the finger spinner. Their job is to keep it tight so leg spinner can be attacking and the batsmen are looking to go after him, that where I think Zampa will be at his best.”
Most importantly, Sriram stressed on the idea of Australia backing their spinners.
“Australia need to trust their spinners. Naturally, Australian spinners impart plenty of revs on the ball so it’s all about find the right pace. If they can do that they have the potential to be really potent in these conditions.”
One of the main reasons Sriram was roped in as a consultant was to improve Australia’s batting against spinners during the middle overs.
At the last World T20 in Bangladesh in 2014, Australia lost 6/105 against Pakistan, 6/76 against West Indies and then a diabolical 7/75 against the Indian spinners.
While Sriram has been watching a few videos he feels the mindset and footwork of Australia’s batsmen are areas he hopes to address before the tournament begins on March 8.
“I remember telling one of the top batsmen on A tour last year that just because one ball spins past your bat, don’t think too much about that,” said Sriram. “Don’t start thinking what do I need to do now. It’s important not to get worked up about it.
“Secondly, it is about alignment of the batsmen when bowlers deliver at different angles, it is about the position of the feet. If the feet are in right position it means the batsmen can score on both sides of the pitch. If you can score through the on and the offside then you are doing something the bowler is not expecting.”
Sriram, a left arm spinner himself, plans to bowl a lot to the Australian batsmen in the nets so they are accustomed to different angles and the change of spin opposition spinners will employ throughout the tournament.
“If I can replicate what Jadeja or another spinner is trying to do in the nets, then the batsmen will understand that mindset,” said Sriram. “I have played a lot of cricket with sub-continent spinners so I know their mindsets and if I can replicate that in the nets then hopefully when they come up against the spinners they will be ready for it in the match.”
But Sriram’s first aim is to understand the mindset of each batsman.
“My first priority is to understand each player’s mind about playing spin bowling. I’m going to South Africa with an open mind and I want to be flexible, as each player generally has their own approach that they are comfortable with.”
In terms of the conditions, Sriram feels the timing and the venues means Australia could experience changing conditions from game to game.
“The Dharmsala pitch [where Australia will start their campaign] generally offers good bounce and the ball comes onto the bat nicely. But this time there will be six to eight qualifying matches scheduled at the same ground before Australia opening game, so by then you might find the pitch could possibly be a lot slower.”
The other two matches, in Mohali against Pakistan and India, Sriram expects to be played on slow wickets where spinners could play a big role.
“In the past Mohali has had the reputation of being fastest pitch in India but last couple of years it has slowed up considerably. When Australia is playing India there I think India will play to their strength and the pitch will take some turn. The Pakistan match is also scheduled at Mohali and with the tournament at end of the Indian cricket season, we will expect some turn and slowness in the pitches.”
When asked what position Steve Smith should bat, Sriram did not specify a position.
“Ideally you want Smith to bat when the spinners are in operation. You want him to just hold up one end by rotating the strike and let power hitters bat around him. The overs after the power play, so seventh onwards, will be ideal time for him.”
It is understood Sriram work had been highly praised by Troy Cooley during last year’s A Tour, and players such as Usman Khawaja, Joe Burns and Cameron Bancroft felt he had done an outstanding job on that tour, which led to Australia hiring him for the tour of Bangladesh which was later cancelled.
While Sriram was disappointed about the Bangladesh, tour he will now get another chance to showcase his coaching skills and try to guide Australia to their first Twenty20 World Cup title.