Pitches ain’t the problem…
Pitches are the most important part of cricket. Whereas in other sports, the surface on which the game is played is a minor inconvenience if conditions are not optimal, but in cricket it is the lifeblood of the sport.
In the aftermath of the Australian loss to Pakistan in the first Test in Dubai, we saw several sections of the media, and a vocal section of Australian fans, saying that dead pitches were ruining the game.
Cricket Australia's website used the brilliant oxymoron of "lifeless and spin friendly" to describe the Dubai surface. How a pitch can be dead and offer turn and bounce for Pakistani spinners wasn't explained.
Robert Craddock in the Courier Mail spoke about how these pitches that don't have pace are what Australia should expect. Craddock says Mitchell Johnson's renaissance means opponents will slow things down to combat him.
That would be fair comment if the pitches in Dubai are normally lightning quick green tops. They are not. This is what wickets in the UAE are like. In fact, it is a miracle that pitches in the desert are as quick as they are.
There is not some sort global conspiracy to blunt Australian pace bowlers, rather there are differing conditions around the world. If Australia, its journalists and its fans. think that every pitch in the world will be what they see at the WACA they will be waiting a long time.
The pitch in Dubai produced a result in four and a half days with every session holding interest for the spectator. In that Test the Australian spinners took seven wickets at 70 runs each. Pakistan's tweakers got 15 wickets at a cost of 23.
In the next Test in Abu Dhabi, Pakistan racked up 570 runs included two hundreds and a double hundred in their first innings. As day three got underway Australian commentator Dean Jones was lamenting the flat pitch and talked of Australia batting out the day.
The visitors proceeded to lose four wickets in the first session. By the close of the third day he was saying Australia could bat their way out of trouble because it was 'not that bad a pitch.'
Sanjay Manjrekar took to Twitter to bemoan the surface in the second Test saying "Mitchell Johnson bowling on this flat Abu Dhabi pitch is a bit like sending a batsman out to bat with a stump…Just unfair."
This is the same pitch where Australia were bowled out twice for under 300.
Not winning the toss in either game didn't help, but that does not explain Australia managing to go past 300 only once. On day four Misbah scored the joint fastest ton ever. There was no extra wear when Australia’s top order failed later that afternoon.
Australia struggled in this series because they have batted badly against spin and bowled spin badly. Nathan Lyon has been hugely disappointing. Over the last 18 months he has been vastly improved, but here when Australia needed him most he hasn't delivered.
Not only has Lyon struggled with the ball, the Australian middle order have played for turn that wasn't there and misjudged things when the ball actually spun. It was all very reminiscent of Australia’s last Test tour to Asia that saw them lose 4-0 to India.
Blaming pitches when Australia have been outplayed in every department of the game is hugely disrespectful to Pakistan who won almost every session.
Misbah captained with intelligence and nous. As Michael Clarke went full funk, Misbah was calm and persistent, trusting his bowlers to do the job.
Australia just seemed to concede that it was impossible to claim wickets on the Abu Dhabi pitch and just sat back. Johnson kept on banging the ball in allowing the Pakistan batsmen to play him effectively off the back foot. The Aussie spinner that troubled the opposition the most was Steve Smith with his full toss/long hop/jaffa combos.
Younis Khan was relentless in his run getting. Australia's response to this measured approach was to promote Glenn Maxwell to number three who then proceeded to walk past a straight one and miss several reverse sweeps.
As Australia swished their way to 261 all out in the first innings, the attacking continued throughout in the vain hope that relentless positivity would in some way cover up the cracks.
The biggest concern for Australia is the lack of a match winning spinner. While Lyon had done a decent job of holding up an end prior to this series, he has rarely tormented the opposition. He is a bowler that relies on patience more than balls spitting out the rough. Since Shane Warne there have been 14 spinners in Australia Test side. Lyon has been the best by some distance.
This apparent lack of quality spin in Australia may well account for their struggles against the turning ball when batting. If you are not facing it at home you will not succeed against it overseas.
The only Australia batsman that looked to have a way to play that didn't include hitting their way out of trouble was, once again, Steve Smith. Although Dave Warner deserves some credit for making his aggression work for him.
Australia have lost this series 2-0. If they want to know why they should look at themselves, not the grass beneath their feet.
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