After being thoroughly outplayed in the first Test, Australia actually managed a less humiliating thwacking than England did in Ahmedabad four months ago. So to find the road to redemption they just need to follow the signs labelled ‘pick a mediocre left arm spinner’, right?
Well, maybe right. But probably wrong.
The fact that sending for Xavier Doherty in an attempt to find salvation hasn’t been ridiculed by all quarters is both a reflection of how far Australia were from India in Chennai and of how little faith everyone has in India’s batting. Every Australian wicket fell to spin in the first Test, while Nathan Lyon could only manage the somewhat underwhelming figures of 3/215 in the first innings – figures, incidentally, which have slotted straight into the 51allout hall of fame, sat snugly between 0/249 and 21/9. So clearly something must be done.
It’s deciding what should be done where it all gets a little tricky. Do Australia need to play two spinners? Yes. Do Australia have two international class spinners? Emphatically no. That is the crux of the issue. To some degree, whatever bowling attack they choose to go with is a compromise; in the first Test they backed their seamers to succeed despite conditions beyond all but James Pattinson, who struggles to bowl more than four balls in a row without breaking down anyway, and might not even play in Mumbai because they’re so worried about his fitness. Presumably there will be at least one change to the attack for the second Test, although Moises Henriques batting exploits have restricted their options even further.
Henriques was thrown in to fill the Shane Watson role in Chennai despite the fact Watson was already in the side, meaning Australia wasted two spots on Shane Watson instead of the usual one. The problem is that they can’t drop Henriques now to try to fix the balance of the bowling attack, so instead are going to have two medium pace all rounders who aren’t really good enough clogging up the team. If he isn’t able to bowl, Watson isn’t worth his place in the side, but the selectors are so in love with the idea of him that his place is absolutely assured.
The best thing for Australia, given Doherty’s lack of ability, might well be to throw caution under a passing bus and pick million dollar man Glen Maxwell. It would leave a team with not one, not two but three bits and pieces all rounders and rapidly becoming an England ODI side from the ’90s, but they have to pick a second spinner. Steve Smith, for all his many talents, is basically a batsman who can fill in for a few overs, while Doherty just isn’t very good. If their choice then is between two not very good spinners; one who might be able to bat and one who can’t, the choice is obvious enough. It’s not exactly inspiring but it’s worth a shot. He at least has confidence in himself, which means he has at least one more fan than the X man.
As far as batting goes, they are perhaps even more reliant on Michael Clarke in these conditions than usual. Phil Hughes had an(other) absolutely shocking Test in Chennai but will presumably be allowed the chance to redeem himself this week. Smith or Usman Khawaja could come in, although the former has been continually persecuted by the management so a recall looks unlikely. Khawaja is hardly a better bet than Hughes. Unless that bet is to not immediately get out upon receipt of a bouncer, in which case he is.
As for India, changes are unlikely despite Murali Vijay and Harbhajan Singh being a bit rubbish and Ajinkya Rahane and Pragyan Ojha being quite obviously better options. Adding another spinner is possible, as getting Ojha into the side would seem quite the cunning plan, particularly as a different line of attack to the right handers in Australia’s top seven. A third (well, fourth if you count Ravindra Jadeja) spinner would hardly contribute less to the team effort in the field than Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Ishant Sharma did in the first Test unless they literally didn’t bother to turn up for a couple of days. Unfortunately, India have never exactly embraced the theory of proactivity, so expect the same side.
Australia probably won’t win in Hyderabad but they have to change something to try to give themselves a chance. There is no point at all in losing the exact same way again. Their quest to replicate England’s success
is doomed to fail might even be helped by back to back Test matches, which could ruthlessly expose India’s aversion to any sort of fitness regime. They have to fight back, choosing the same side isn’t the way to do so.