As the Australian think-tank consisting of captain Clarke, the coach Nielsen and co. sit around on a table to discuss about the bowling combination for the upcoming test series against Lanka, they will have to think long and hard about what can be the best combination to play Lanka in their own den.
Gone are the days of Australian bowlers choosing themselves on the morning of a test match. When Australia had McGrath, Warne, Dizzy, Lee, Macgill and company, all an Australian captain needed to do was to think about whether anyone of them wasn't fit enough to play in the test match. Now though, Australia have a set of inexperienced fast bowlers, led by the enigmatic and unpredictable fast bowler Johnson. In the spin department, the Australian captain can't call upon a cricketer by the name of Shane Keith Warne to bamboozle the best of batsmen with his bag of tricks, instead he has to think of couple of hard-working, but journeymen spinners. Now, it doesn't mean that Australia have a weak attack as the likes of Johnson, Siddle, Harris and Copeland can still bowl out sides, but they no more have the aura of the great Australian sides of the past. So, it becomes important for the Australian think-tank to pick the right combination for the upcoming test series in Lanka.
If I look at present set of bowlers, first and foremost, I would say that they should play to their strengths which is in their fast bowling. Both spinners are greenhorns and the likes of Lyon and Beer are rarely going to trouble class batsmen against spinners. I would pick three seamers, one spinner, who in the side will have to take up the mantle of doing a holding job with Watson as the batting all-rounder.
A few may argue that Srilankan conditions offers nothing for the seam bowlers. I beg to differ with them, as over the years, most Lankan tracks have offered a bit of help for the quicker bowlers early in the morning. It is just that wickets are slow and whatever help is there for the quicker bowlers will disappear after the end of the first session. I just don't see anything wrong in a team picking three seam bowlers and one spinner for a test match to be played in Lankan conditions provided, the three seamers hunt as a pack and utilize the helpful conditions on offer in the first session.
So who are the bowlers Australia can play in the first test against Srilanka? can they pick a steady seamer, but someone who lacks pace in Copeland? In this article, I would just look at all the bowlers in the Australian squad and finally list out the bowlers, who in my opinion should play the first test.
Johnson- When the enigmatic Johnson gets it right, he is the most devastating bowler going around, but there is also another side to Johnson, as he can lose his control very easily and bowl like a club level bowler. In short, you never know what you will get with this unpredictable bowler, as he can occasionally be an out and out match winner, but can suddenly lose his control and bowl utter tripe.
Johnson also depends on pace and bounce as he can get awkward bounce. Johnson isn't a swinger of the ball, so he can struggle on wickets when it doesn't have pace and bounce. Yes, he swung it very late at WACA against England, but for me, I still can't fathom how he did it, as the seam was all over the place wobbling on a diagonal line yet, it swung very late. For me, it defied logic.
I am not sure about whether Johnson will bowl well on Srilankan wickets. He bowled well in the onedayers in Lanka, but Johnson usually does well in One-day cricket. Australia though, will need the unpredictable Johnson to fire on all cylinders in the test series.
Siddle- If I am the captain of a side and I have a bowler like Siddle, he would be one of the first names on my team sheet. As a bowler, Siddle doesn't do much with a ball in hand. So why do I rate him highly? The fact is, here is a bowler, who runs in all day and bowls at good pace. It seems like even if there is a brick wall in front of Siddle, he will still be ready to run into it and bowl! Siddle doesn't have the talent of Mitch or even Harris, but more than makes it up with his effort.
Copeland- I have to confess that I have seen Copeland only once and that too in a warm-up match against England before the Ashes. From whatever little I saw of Copeland in that One-day match, I was impressed by his bowling. England's batsmen took him apart in that One-day match, but I believe it was more due to the fact that Copeland comes across as a bowler, who can be predictable with what he does, so it wasn't surprising to see him leaking runs in that match. In the longer format though, Copeland is perhaps the bowler, who can just do what Australia needs the most, someone who bowls with good control. In that match against England, Copeland was bowling steady stuff and moving the ball just enough either way which is why I feel that he can do well in Lanka. Copeland bowls at just about medium pace, but on slow wickets of Lanka, Australia can select Copeland as he bowls line and length and would likely utilize whatever little bit of movement, the Lankan pitches may offer in the first session of the test match.
Actually, it is great to see that Copeland has done exactly what I thought of him by taking a five wicket haul in the warm-up game. It is now up-to the selectors to pick him and for Copeland to perform well not just in warm-up games, but also in test cricket. I would like to see more of Copeland, but he seems to be a bowler, who isn't over coached and that is why his brain isn't muddled with millions of theories. He just sticks to the basics of running up straight and hitting the top of off-stump. Now, it doesn't require rocket science to understand that if a bowler runs up straight and hits top of off-stump he will succeed.
Ryan Harris- Harris popularly known as Rhino is more talented than Siddle, as he can swing the ball and when cracks develop in the pitch, he has the ability to just sit on it all day yet, I may just go for Siddle over Harris. The only reason I am looking at Siddle is, because he is fitter and it requires a bowler to be really fit to bowl in those hot and humid conditions of Srilanka. I was also impressed by what I saw of Pattinson in the final onedayer against Lanka, as he was generating good pace and extracting a bit of bounce, but he is perhaps not yet ready to play test cricket.
The two spinners Australian selectors have picked are Beer and Lyon. Among those two spinners, I have seen Beer bowl in a test match, but to be honest, he didn't impress me. The problem with Beer is, he seems to think that flighting the ball means to bowl as slow as you can which is just the wrong way to go about bowling spin. I have also not seen Beer bowling the arm ball and he struggles to make subtle changes in pace. He may have improved in the last six months or so, but from what I saw of him at Sydney against England, I would say that he isn't the spinner that Australia should play in test matches. The only left arm spinner who looks ok is Keefe, but Australia seem to pick everyone but Keefe.
I am surprised that Australia have shown faith in SLA in recent times, as they have picked both Doherty and Beer for test cricket. I have watched a lot of Australian cricket in the last twenty years and I can't remember a single SLA playing for Australia in test cricket. Australians usually look out for wrist spinners, but at present, they don't seem to have any decent wrist spinner in their ranks. In-fact, wrist spinners like Brad Hogg, Bob Holland, or even Peter McIntyre would have walked into the present Australian side. As far as the other spinner in the side is concerned, I have heard a few good things about the off-spinner in the side Lyon, but his first class record is poor and has played only five games.
If I was the selector, I would have gone for Hauritz as the main spinner, as he is a steady bowler and can occasionally get bounce. He is perhaps the right sort of bowler to bowl on Lankan tracks. As the selectors haven't picked Hauritz, I may look at Lyon, as I just wasn't impressed by what I saw of Beer at Sydney. From Australia's point of view, I fear that likes of Mahela and Sanga will milk Beer for runs. So, for the first test against Srilanka, my bowling attack would be Johnson, Copeland, Siddle and Lyon with Watson as the batting all-rounder. Australia though, may pick Harris and a second spinner in Beer.
The fact is, whoever bowls for Australia in the upcoming series against Lanka, they will have the daunting task of bowling on slow wickets and against batsmen, who are born and bred by playing on slow wickets in Lanka. The likes of Sanga, Jaya and Samaraweera are outstanding at converting their starts into big scores when they play in Srilanka. So, as a cricket connoisseur, I am waiting with bated breath to see how the new crop of Australian bowlers will bowl in Srilanka.