‘Like Test cricket’: Australia risk being spun out of World Cup

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Australia’s embattled innings was still a long way from completion when a beautifully edited clip did the rounds of social media.

There was Steve Smith leaning forward to defend Ravindra Jadeja in a Test match; at the point of contact the vision suddenly switched to Chennai and the World Cup, where Jadeja spun the white ball past him and into the off stump.

While the edit was soon taken down by the hawkish defenders of media rights, it had spoken a truth that Jadeja and Smith would both echo following India’s six-wicket win.

This pitch resembled Indian Test match conditions, and as such Australia were nowhere near as great a threat.

“I felt like I was back playing Test cricket again,” Smith conceded. “We were trying to take it a little bit deeper at that point, it was very challenging, and it was going to be challenging for the guy coming in – the batters that were in were finding it quite difficult.

Steve Smith is knocked over by Ravindra Jadeja in the Nagpur Test.Credit: Getty Images

“So we always talk about if you get a wicket it’s very difficult to start, so we were just trying to take it that little bit deeper, and unfortunately, I felt like I got a pretty good ball from Jadeja. But to lose those wickets in a row cost us maybe getting around 250.”

For Jadeja, these were familiar climes, not only through his Indian Premier League connection with Chennai, but also the thought of locking into Test match mode, which he did artfully on the way to 3-28. Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and an out of sorts Alex Carey all appeared to be transported back to Delhi or Nagpur in February.

“My plan was simple, I was thinking that this is a Test match bowling wicket,” Jadeja said. “I shouldn’t experiment too much because everything was happening in the wicket.

“So, I was trying to bowl it stump to stump. From here some balls would turn, some would go straight, so it won’t be easy for the batsman to line up.”

For Australia, this is manifestly bad news. So much of their team composition for the World Cup was based on higher scoring, more batter-friendly pitches. In particular, the presence of only one specialist spin bowler in Adam Zampa is meagre in terms of squad balance, no matter how many times the team insist Glenn Maxwell is a frontliner.

And again: Steve Smith’s defence is breached by Ravindra Jadeja in Chennai.Credit: Getty

As evening dew made the ball greasy, Zampa was ineffectual, and in truth has not been bowling at his best at any stage of the run into the Cup. Against KL Rahul and Virat Kohli, he offered too much to hit, even if the dew impeded his efforts to turn the ball past the bat.

For the moment, Tanveer Sangha has been retained as a reserve spin bowler outside the 15-man squad that still includes the winged Travis Head. Back home, Todd Murphy and Matt Kuhnemann are playing for their states and Nathan Lyon will play his first game after the Ashes calf tear in Sydney grade ranks this week.

But stocking the squad with more specialist spin bowling won’t cover the other problem glimpsed in Chennai – faced with quality spin on a turning surface that made it difficult to find the boundary, Australia struggled to impose any batting pressure.

Smith admitted that he and Marnus Labuschagne were “waiting for the loose ball” to hit a boundary. Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav don’t tend to offer them, and without any threat of being attacked could settle into rhythm.

One of the more troubling trends for Australia since the 2019 World Cup is that, as dug up by Jarrod Kimber, they score fewer singles against spin than any other of the world’s leading teams: India, New Zealand, England, South Africa and Pakistan.

Even Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are ahead of the Australians on this front, meaning they must take greater risks to find the boundary more often.

In Chennai, the boundaries dried up, there was not enough singles and, soon, no wickets left.

Josh Hazlewood, for one, expressed hope that things would get more manageable.

Glenn Maxwell is not happy about being bowled by Kuldeep Yadav.Credit: AP

“There’s probably a good sort of examination on our batters to get that [India] up first, probably against the best spinners in the tournament,” he said.

“Hopefully, it gets a little bit easier from here on in and they’ll come up with some new plans and go from there.”

But even the Proteas, Australia’s next opponents, in Lucknow on Thursday, have two quality spinners in Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj.

Pat Cummins’ team may just have to pray for provision of the batting pitches their squad was devised for.

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