The Australian cricket team has slumped to their 2nd straight defeat against Sri Lanka and in the process fallen to a series defeat with a humiliating 229 run defeat at Galle in the 2nd test. The match was wrapped up well before the 5th day where the Australian’s deficiencies against spin again came to the fore.
After an eye opening 106 run defeat at Pallekelle in the first test, it was assumed (a little bit arrogantly so in some quarters) that Australia would blow out the cobwebs from the 1st test and bounce back with a vengeance against the lowly ranked Sri Lankan’s. Their poor batting performances from the 1st test were merely poor shot selection rather than great bowling by the underrated spin attack of the Sri Lankan’s right?
How wrong that assessment was. The Aussies seemed even more inept at dealing with the spinning combination of both Rangana Herath and Dilruman Perera who took 16 of the 20 wickets in the second test and now have caused Australia to lose 36 wickets out of 40 to the spin of the Sri Lankan’s.
Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja and Peter Nevill all spent minimal time at the crease and were unsure of whether to go forward or back against the tantalizing spin of the Lankans. Burns and Nevill are on particular notice after underwhelming performances in the first two tests. Burns has mustered just 34 runs in 4 innings at an average of less than 9 and has only lasted 63 balls against spin, whilst Nevill’s issues run a lot deeper however, having hit just two half centuries in 17 innings. Scores of 2, 9 (a rearguard 115 ball stay), 24 and 0 sees him score just one more run more than the aforementioned Burns.
One of the most frustrating aspects of these defeats has been that the Australian’s bowlers had performed an admirable job with the ball. Josh Hazelwood and Mitchell Starc combined for 11 wickets in the first test in Pallekelle before Starc secured best bowling and match figures of his career in Kandy with 11/94 on the back of some great line and length.
Admittedly the Aussies haven’t played a lot of cricket and do look sorely underdone. However, this can’t mask the underlying problem that has plagued Australian cricket for more than half a century, the elephant in the room: playing spin bowling on subcontinental pitches.
Australian coach Darren Lehmann has been vocal in recent weeks of his desire to win consistently on the sub-continent and defeat India next year. This series in Sri Lanka was seen as a stepping stone to that goal, however the frailties of the Australian top order in this current series is making that goal look like a wish that is granted by a genie.
This is not a recent problem for the Australian test team who have very limited success on the subcontinent. A test series win in 2004 against India is one of the few successes they have had, with the previous series win before that coming in 1969/70. Their last visit in 2013 led to a 4-0 series defeat where Ravi Ashwin snatched 29 wickets against the luckless Australian batsmen. They have not played regularly on the sub-continent against the likes of Pakistan or Bangladesh. Their last test series against Pakistan on the sub-continent was in 98/99 although were soundly beaten in the 2014/15 test series in the UAE which again underpins the struggle against spin on slow, turning tracks.
It’s not just on the subcontinent that the Australian’s have struggled with spin though. The ashes in 2013 saw the Australian’s bamboozled by Graeme Swann’s 26 wickets and in the most recent series in England Moeen Ali chipped in with 12 wickets in a part time effort.
It’s plain and simple, we don’t know how to play spin. You can look through the record books since the turn of the century and the large majority of overseas defeats for the Australian’s have come on the back of spin bowling. Why is this? Technical deficiencies? Perhaps. It could also be the lack of practice against quality spin bowling in Australia. Since the retirement of Shane Warne, Australia hasn’t produced any real turners of the ball. This has led to batsmen in First Class cricket not being testing against the turning and drifting ball which has then transitioned into players in the test team. Of the current crop, only Steven Smith and perhaps David Warner are capable and confident against spin bowling. Successful play against spin requires the use of your feet and good vison, something that is severely lacking in the Australian top order.
This is not a quick fix issue and something that needs to be studied intently by the coaching staff and players. The lack of runs being scored at the state level means that it is not as simple as just drafting in some fresh faces to rectify the issue against spin, it’s a lot deeper than that.
For now, Australia needs to focus on a united front and attempt to salvage some pride in the 3rd test. Concentration and the task of batting for long periods of time will be the aim for the tourists who would want nothing worse than to lose an away series 3-0. They have now won just one of their last 17 tests in Asia which is becoming a real stumbling block towards Australia’s attempted success in world cricket domination.
There needs to be a clear and concise plan for the team to tackle spin bowling, because until that happens there is going to be more pain than joy for this once dominant test giant.