Watching clarke is like experiencing deja vu

As Michael Clarke stepped out to drive or backed off to cut or glide, I was reminded of the other great Australian players of spin in the second half of the last century, Doug Walters, Ian Chappell and Ian Redpath, writes Greg Chappell, the former Australian skipper.

Michael Clarke is a throw-back to a bygone era. Watching him bat at Chepauk on Day 1, took me back to my youth when I watched Neil Harvey score 154 against Titmus and Illingworth at the Adelaide Oval 50 years ago.

Harvey was like a will-o’-the-wisp as he skipped down the pitch to hit balls on the full or half-volley through the field on both sides of the wicket. If he wasn’t appearing to take the ball out of the bowler’s hand, he was back on the stumps, pulling and cutting with ferocity.

I remember our father telling us that this was the best way to play spin. The art of batting against spin, he would say, was to never let the spinner dictate the length of deliveries. The safest way to play spin, he opined, was to never be a static target. The role of a batsman, he said, was to dictate the rhythm of play. In his opinion, staying in the crease was definitely not the way to succeed against spin.

Michael Clarke must have been listening. As he stepped out to drive or backed off to cut or glide on that Friday, I was also reminded of the other great Australian players of spin in the second half of last century, Doug Walters, Ian Chappell and Ian Redpath.

Those who saw that triumvirate do battle with Prasanna, Bedi and Venkataraghavan will know what I mean when I say that they were a class above the rest when it came to playing spin. Each one had his own method, but it always involved getting down the pitch as often as possible.

Australian skipper Michael Clarke makes an ellegant cut. He was in a different class against the Indian spinners who dominated the first Test at Chepauk.-V. GANESAN

Walters and Ian Chappell always argued over which of the Indian spinners was the best. Walters reckoned Bedi while Ian favoured Prasanna. Their discussions off the field acted as a motivation for them to take that battle onto the field to prove the other wrong. This led to some wonderful battles those Indian friends of mine who saw them, still talk about.

Redpath was the anomaly in this grouping. His wide stance should have restricted him from being as nimble on his feet as he was which only goes to prove that it is as much about the mindset as it is about the method.

The best players of spin are born to it; it is in their DNA and relates to having a gambler’s instinct and the nimbleness and timing of a pick-pocket.

Those who are not as adept against spin bowling have to think too much about what they are intending to do, which costs them precious seconds. They also have a tendency to premeditate when they will go down the pitch or sweep. This leads to mistakes that either cost them valuable runs or, frequently, their wicket.

The other aspect that differentiates the champions from the rest is that they hit the ball through the field more often than over it. This proves to me that they have confidence in what they are doing and that they trust their instincts.

Those who primarily go over the top do so because they don’t have absolute faith in their method and they are not truly in rhythm with the bowler. Playing spin does not come naturally to them. They also try to hit the ball too hard which restricts how far they can get down the pitch. These players are the ones most likely to get stumped; if they don’t hole out to the outfield first.

Clarke rarely got caught on the crease, against Indian spinners like R. Ashwin, during his innings of 130 and that is why he prospered ahead of so many of his team-mates who were dismissed LBW.

Ashwin has just got rid of David Warner,leg-before in the first innings, of the Chennai Test. “The art of batting against spin, my father would say, was to never let the spinner dictate the length of deliveries,” says the author.-V. GANESAN

His innings brought to mind a fascinating conversation that I had a few years back with Prasanna about off-spin bowling; his in particular.

As a qualified engineer, he was able to describe the science of spin, why the ball drifted, dropped and spun, but I was more interested in what was going on in his mind.

I asked him what his plan was when a new batsman came to the crease. His intention, he said, was to spin the ball as much as he could to hit the batsman on the pad as often as he could in the first over or two to make him think about the ball spinning; and then get him out with a straight one.

Line, he said, was optional; length was mandatory. He wanted to trap the batsman on the crease as often as possible. This, he said, was the way to get wickets on turning tracks.

He agreed with our father’s thoughts on playing spin bowling. It was the player who dictated length who had the best chance of surviving and, more importantly, scoring runs on turning pitches.

Clarke, by his deeds, particularly since taking over the captaincy, has placed himself in the pantheon of the best batsmen to have played for Australia.

He is now in the top ten run scorers and is likely to join the distant stratosphere with Ponting and Border before he is finished.

He looks completely at peace with his batting and totally in charge with his leadership, on and off the field. If he can continue this form through the remainder of this series and into the back to back Ashes series in England and Australia in the next 12 months, he might pull off the totally unexpected and lead Australia to triumphs in all three series.

If he can do that, he will have elevated himself into very rare company indeed.