Exorcising spin demon key to Australia's fresh beginning

The aim would be to play the spinners well when Australia A team gears up for the second and final unofficial Test against India A.

Usman Khawaja scored 127 in the first unofficial Test.   -  Sudhakara Jain

Australian cricket is in a state of flux — rarely has the disconnect between the team and how it plays its cricket been so starkly exposed. 

The bans imposed on Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft — for their involvement in the ball tampering incident in South Africa — has put a cloud of uncertainty over Australia's team combination, the kind it was oblivious to during an era which saw the side reach heights of success in Test cricket while completing a remarkable hat-trick of triumphs in the 1999, 2003 and 2007 World Cups.

Inescapably, this background becomes relevant as the Australia A team gears up for the second and final unofficial Test against India A, with the sights firmly set on the two-Test series against Pakistan in UAE.

Read: 'Playing India-A better than sitting on the bench in England'

Prior to any visit to the subcontinent, the discussion invariably revolved around Australia's ability to play spin on dry and  turning tracks.

It's no different this time, only with Smith out of action, head coach Justin Langer has perhaps lost his most trusted weapon against the tweakers. 

Queensland batsman Marnus Labuschagne, playing his maiden tour in Australia A colours, insists the best preparation he has had so far has been the days spent in India. He was initially selected for the 50-over format, but was asked to stay back as cover for Matt Renshaw who picked up a hamstring strain.

"I knew spin would be a challenge in India and that I would have to have good plans for batting against the spinners. I did a lot of work on sweeping and using the crease," Marnus, who was Sheffield Shield's second-leading run-scorer last year, with 795 runs at 39.75, including two hundreds told Sportstar.

"That (sweeping) has helped a lot in terms of rotating and getting off strike and not getting tied down against spinners," he adds.

Winning culture but how?

Before the first unofficial Test against India A in Bengaluru - which it won by 98 runs - Australia A's skipper Mitchell Marsh had said, "We want to create a culture in this team that we want to come here (India) to win. Just trying to do my best to make sure that happens. For me it's about trying to spend time out in the middle with the bat, but we want to win for Australia."

While it's the right mindset, it's not new to this crop of players. Australian teams touring India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the past have adopted a similar approach and yet, faltered against spin — at times in an apologetic fashion.

In the four-Test series between Australia and India in 2017, Indian spinners took 52 wickets at 24.13, while on Australia's previous tour to India - in 2013 - they took 65 wickets at 22.24. The pacers, on the other hand, bagged a joint total of 35 wickets at 33.69. India won both the Test series 2-1 and 4-0 respectively.

There was one Australian batsman, though, who stood above the rest in the 2017 tour - Smith. The right-hander amassed 499 runs at an average of 71.28, including three hundreds. The next best was Renshaw with 232 runs at 29. Renshaw, meanwhile, is believed to have recovered from the strain and is expected to feature in the Alur Test.

Usman Khawaja — who has a hundred (127) in the first unofficial Test — averages under 15 at venues (Galle, Dhaka and Pallekele) where the ball is known to turn.

Travis Head, another contender, is yet to make his Test debut and Peter Handscomb (0 and 8) struggled against India A. 

And with Marsh, who had missed five months of cricket with an ankle injury, failing to impress in both innings (0 and 9) in Bangalore, Australia's top order needs to be attended to.

Marnus who, batting at No. 6, made the most of the opportunity with scores of 60 and 37 at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium says,"Its been made pretty clear to us that this tour has a lot riding on it, individually and from a learning perspective."

As Australia prepares for life after the tampering saga, Langer and the leadership group would hope the side uses its 'learnings' to exorcise the spin demons. They could give a different spin to the subcontinent tale.