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Australia should play two spinners against Windies

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Expert
3rd June, 2019
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Australia should play two spinners against the West Indies on Thursday to prey upon their relative weakness against slow bowlers.

In their nine one-day matches across the past month the Windies batsmen have showed a clear preference for facing fast bowling.

In that time quicks have averaged 42 against the Windies compared to 49 for spinners, but the key metric has been the economy rates. Pacemen have been thrashed at 6.85 runs per over by the Windies, while spinners have been very frugal, conceding just 5.03 runs an over.

Meanwhile, leading cricket analytics firm CricViz this week revealed that, since the Champions Trophy two years ago, the West Indies have been one of the world’s weakest sides against spin in ODIs.

For some time now I have believed spin is the key to limiting the damage of the teams who bat in an ultra-aggressive fashion in ODIs.

The West Indies and England line-ups both brim with batsmen who take on the ODI game almost as if it’s a T20. Rather than seeking to build an innings they immediately look to bully the bowlers.

Spinners have dominated T20 cricket for years now because of the greater difficulty – for most batsmen at least – of clattering them from ball one. So it would make sense that slow bowlers are crucial to taming ODI teams that bat with T20 intensity.

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I would argue this is particularly so on the small English grounds where pace on the ball can be a liability.

Australia should have learned that during their forgettable five-match ODI series in England last year. As they were thumped 5-0 in that series, Australia’s pacemen conceded a whopping 7.1 runs per over, while Australia’s two spinners (Ashton Agar and Nathan Lyon) gave up a miserly 5.1 runs per over.

Nate Lyon (AAP Image/Darren England)

Lyon was remarkably economical in his two matches in that series considering the manner in which England’s batting line-up was cutting loose.

He went at just 4.11 runs per over in those two matches in England. While the veteran is not a major wicket taking threat in ODIs, he is one of the most frugal bowlers in the format.

Across his 25 ODIs he has conceded just 4.86 runs per over, and was similarly difficult to score off in the three recent warm-up matches he played, giving up just 4.96 runs per over.

That included a spell of 1-37 from 10 overs against England late last month.

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The veteran off spinner would also be suited by the wealth of left handers in the West Indian line-up. Bowling from around the wicket and targeting the stumps, Lyon is at his best against left handers and the West Indies have four of them in their top six.

Meanwhile, Adam Zampa remains Australia’s most threatening spinner and should be retained for this match despite a patchy display against Afghanistan.

Zampa was expensive in that match but he also took three important wickets. It is the contrast between Zampa’s attacking style and Lyon’s defensiveness which has made them an effective spin combination this year.

Adam Zampa celebrates with Steve Smith

Adam Zampa celebrates with Steve Smith. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

They played together in seven of Australia’s eight consecutive wins in ODIs leading into this tournament.

Against the West Indies Lyon should take the place of third seamer Nathan Coulter-Nile. It would be a tough call on the West Australian, who has a fine ODI record and bowled well against the Windies in the warm-up match, taking 2-25 from six overs.

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But he has been poor since that fixture, taking 1-97 at nearly seven runs per over in Australia’s past two matches.

Coulter-Nile also tends to run hot and cold more so than Lyon and when he has an off day it tends to get very ugly. That was the case against England when Coulter-Nile was blasted for 61 runs from six overs, despite England missing a couple of key batsmen.

He still has a important role to play in this tournament, particularly if Australia play on any moist pitches. But picking the right attack for the right opponent is crucial in World Cups and two spinners is clearly the way to go against the West Indies.