In Pune, it was a David versus Goliath battle – the inexperienced Australian spinners versus the quality Indian batting line-up led by Virat Kohli. Batsmen comprising of stalwarts who have played spinners on turning tracks throughout their life and against two spinners who lacked the experience of bowling in these conditions and with limited skills.
However, at the end of the Pune Test, the two Australian spinners had taken 17 wickets, while the Indian batsmen managed to score only 141 runs against them in the two innings.
How did Nathan Lyon and Steve O'Keefe pull off this miraculous task of dominating Indian batsmen on their home turf? We look at the 5 major areas which contributed to their supremacy in this Test match.
#1 Pitch and its assessment
The Pune pitch is traditionally a flat track and domestic games here are famous for high scores. Hence, the curators in pursuit of bringing the spinners in the game made the pitch dry and ensured that the grass was dead. However, things went horribly wrong and the final outcome was a rank turner that offered vicious turn from day one along with sharp bounce.
This pitch made the Australian spinners look more threatening and by bowling in the right areas, O’Keefe and Lyon completely exploited this track.
Credit should also be given to the two Aussie spinners for assessing the pitch effectively. Compared to the Indian spinners, the Australians bowled fuller lengths which resulted in controlled turn and helped in getting outside edges.
#2 Attitude of Indian batsmen
The approach of the Indian batsmen towards Aussie spinners was casual and this turned out to be one of the crucial reasons for their downfall. The Indian batsmen underestimated the ability of O’Keefe to consistently bowl in the right areas. KL Rahul’s first innings dismissal reflected this carefree approach, and Kohli’s in the second innings, proved that they lacked application for batting in these conditions.
When Steve Smith was batting, he was ready to leave balls every now and again, the Indian batsmen were eager to attack the spinners. Lyon displayed his experience by making Indian batsmen play most of the balls and by halting the run flow, while the Australian spinners created wicket taking opportunities.
The Indian middle order was completely unaware of O’Keefe’s abilities and by the time they realised what hit them, they had conceded a vital 1st inning lead to the opposition. It seemed that Indians failed to learn the lesson as O’Keefe ran through India’s batting order in the 2nd innings as well.
#3 Support of captain
The success of Australian spinners should also be credited to their skipper Steve Smith who offered full support to the spinners and boosted their morale.
Australia entered this match with three seamers and two spinners, including the part-time services of Mitchell Marsh. It was an indication that Australia might focus on their traditional strength which has been pace. But, Smith, after having first-hand experience of the pitch, preferred spinners over the fast bowlers.
Smith gave O’Keefe the new ball with Starc and this reflected the tremendous trust he had in his spinners. In the second innings, Lyon and O’Keefe were given the complete license and bowled for the major part of the innings.
In this Test match, O’Keefe and Lyon bowled 51 overs while the seamers were utilised for only 24 overs.
#4 Mentally and physically fresh
Before this Test match, Nathon Lyon’s last Test appearance was on 7th Jan against Pakistan. In between the last Test against Pakistan and first Test against India, he played 6 Big Bash league matches.
While Steve O’Keefe, prior to this Test match, was part of New South Wales Under-23s when they played a Future League’s match from January 23rd to 26th. Like, Lyon, his last Test match too was against Pakistan on January 7th.
Both these spinners landed in India with a fresh mindset and plenty of rest. Thus, they could use their physical abilities to full strength during the 1st test match.
The moderate gap between their international fixtures allowed Australian players to recover well from their previous matches and create the right mindset for approaching the Indian challenge.
#5 Strong preparation
‘The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war’. The Australian management executed this quote perfectly by providing ample preparation to their spinners for bowling in Indian conditions.
Before this Test series, the Australian players had an extensive practice camp in Dubai where pitches were made using Pakistani soil which created the effect of Indian conditions. Hence, when Lyon and O’Keefe saw the pitch in Pune, they weren’t baffled and instead knew exactly how to bowl on it.
To help spinners in adapting to Indian conditions, the Australian management hired Sridharan Sriram as their spin consultant. Sriram, along with sharing his experience, offered a better perspective of these situations and ensured Lyon and O’Keefe are completely prepared for facing Indian batsmen.
It is not often that we see visiting spinners outbowling Indian spinners, however by achieving this rare feat, Australia has demonstrated the value of scientific preparation and hard work. With three Tests still to go and Indian team pushed at the corner, the Australian spinners will have to only work harder to retain their dominant position.