Why can’t the Aussie bowlers master reverse swing?

Date: February 28, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Once again Australia has been undone by high-quality reverse swing.

This time it was principally South African paceman Dale Steyn who wreaked havoc as Australia lost nine wickets in a session to surrender the second Test at Port Elizabeth by 231 runs.

On a benign pitch that provided little to the quick men in terms of bounce or movement it was the Proteas’ exploitation of old-ball swing that did the damage.

Set the nigh impossible task of scoring 448 for victory, the Australians were actually rollicking along at 0-126 in the 30th over before part-time spinner J P Duminy trapped David Warner in front for 66.

Shortly thereafter the ball started to go reverse, and with it, so too did the Australian wickets.

On a pitch which Australia’s pacemen took to like a duck to asphalt, the hosts were devastating.

Batsmen three to eleven could manage a paltry 22 runs, just one more than the tally of extras in the entire innings.

In all, Australia lost its ten wickets for just 90 runs as one batsman after another looked as bewildered as a dismasted yacht in the doldrums.

St George’s Park was not the first venue at which Australia’s batsmen have looked inept against reverse swing in recent years.

In fact, each of Australia’s eight most recent losses have been recorded on pitches that have provided very little traditional reward for the pacemen and amplified the performances of those who could exploit old ball swing.

Quality reverse swing is never easy to combat – although Australia’s effort at Port Elizabeth was particularly poor.

However, the question for the Australian coaching structure goes beyond the troubles of its batsmen coming to terms with it.

Even more pressing is the fact that the Aussie bowlers seem incapable of being able to replicate what their counterparts have done so often.

In England the excuse has been the Dukes ball, a projectile only used by the Australians every four years.

Yet, we hear repeatedly that the bowlers are practicing with them regularly before they even leave our shores for Ashes series.

Australia’s demise in recent Ashes series abroad has been predicated on the disparity between the two sides with respect to the reverse swing generated, with the 2005 campaign the starkest example.

In that series the likes of Andy Flintoff, Simon Jones and Matthew Hoggard at times seemed to make the ball talk yet Australia could barely bend the old ball at all.

Much of the credit for Australia’s plight was laid at the feet of former Tasmanian swing bowler Troy Cooley who was employed at the time as England’s bowling coach.

Not long after England’s drought-breaking series victory Cooley was lured back home by Cricket Australia to fulfil a similar role with the national team.

Safe to say the new appointment did little to eradicate Australia’s struggles in that area.

On the 2008-09 tour to India, the home side’s prime pace duo of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma made Australia’s task throughout difficult with their refined use of reverse swing.

It was not until late in the fourth Test at Nagpur, with the series still able to be drawn by the tourists, that Shane Watson and Brett Lee began to get the ball to reverse – only for them to be quickly removed from the attack with the prospect of a suspension hanging over captain Ricky Ponting’s head for slow over rates.

India went on to win the match to claim a 2-0 series result.

Just why did it take so long, with Cooley calling the shots, for Australia to be able to fight fire with fire?

Four years hence, Australia is still being repeatedly outgunned in this facet of the game.

And, when it plays on a deck like it did in the second Test, it makes the side look somewhat impotent.

In days gone by Australian skippers could rely on the likes of Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill to dismantle opposing players later in matches.

Whilst Nathan Lyon is improving with every outing he is not in the same category as that pair presently.

Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris have displayed in the past months how devastating they can be on pacy, bouncy pitches.

Equally, Port Elizabeth was a stark reminder of their limited potency when conditions are far less conducive.

In this fully professional era it beggars belief that Australia’s pace armoury has not yet learned to harness reverse swing to the level that their opponents have.

Steyn’s devastating performance swung the match – his mirror-like middle-stump dismissals of Brad Haddin in both innings at St George’s is something we just do not see from Australia’s quicks.

The last time Australia visited Cape Town, in 2011-12, it was swept aside for 47 – having been 9-21 – in its second innings with the Proteas securing an eight-wicket victory.

That pitch was lively.

This Saturday it most likely will less so.

Once again, Australia’s batsmen are likely to be tested by the South African pace attack’s skill with the old ball.

Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that the tourists will reply in kind.

For Australia to fulfil its aspiration of returning to number one in the world it HAS to develop a greater potency on slower and lower pitches.

If the pace attack continues to have the bite of a mouse with dentures on pitches like the one thrown up at Port Elizabeth the lofty goal of top spot is beyond them.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 27 February 2014

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