Australians learned some difficult lessons from Ahmedabad about a new trade
Nathan Lyon met Todd Murphy halfway to the bowling end before Todd Murphy's third over in India's batting on Saturday (March 11). The senior off-spinner had made the long trek across from the deep mid-wicket fence for a chance conversation. It ended up being a quick course. And Lyon accompanied Murphy all the way to the top of his bowling mark, frequently advising his young apprentice to appear to slow down a bit and move his line closer to the off-stump.
Murphy had begun his term at a little faster tempo than Lyon and R Ashwin had done so before him. Moreover, the off-stump was wider than it was previously. He even gave Cheteshwar Pujara a boundary, which he exploited to step down and push through the covers. Given that the pitch wasn't delivering the same level of noticeable spin from every region of the pitch as it had in Indore, Lyon was encouraging him to keep to a line closer to a virtual fourth stump.
Murphy literally needed two deliveries after the conversation to get it properly. For good measure, he then delivered what was arguably the greatest ball of the game up to that point, getting a loopy off-break to pitch precisely where Lyon had wanted him to and spin violently past a well-positioned Shubman Gill's inside-edge, almost cleaning the opening in the process. Lyon cheered happily from the border's edge. His wise counsel had almost given Murphy and Australia a key wicket.
It wasn't the only time Lyon gave his youthful spin teammates, in particular Murphy, some live mentoring at the Narendra Modi Stadium. He did it pretty frequently. When he wasn't bowling himself, which turned out to be his longest stretch in a Test innings, he was doing that (65 overs). And when he wasn't talking to Virat Kohli, he was acting like they were two ex-schoolmates who had an unplanned reunion.
On numerous instances, Lyon would walk from his spot in the shade on the boundary to his partner off-spinner to have a quick word. He once persuaded Murphy to slightly alter his angle. Axar Patel once struck Matthew Kuhnemann for a pair of powerful sixes, giving Lyon the opportunity to pull the bespectacled fielder away and give him a quick lesson in bowling with a dispersed field. Murphy, as usual, recognized the cues right away and took precautions to avoid facing the same criticism Kuhnemann did on the opposite end.
You would be justified in assuming that the Australians have been under pressure with little to no relief if you were to look solely at the statistics or the scorecard in Ahmedabad, particularly over the third and fourth days of play. Yet if anything, the introduction to adversity for some of their younger players may also be seen as a steep learning curve for someone like Murphy, Kuhnemann, and even some of the other younger players on the team.
They were first exposed to the more thrilling component of playing Test cricket in India at Nagpur, Delhi, and Indore, the part when the game is all activity and runs at breakneck speed. Where every ball is essentially a separate event, your chances are often favorable if you spin the ball.
It has served as a new kind of reality check here in Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad has been all about accepting the thanklessness of being a bowler on a very calm surface, if the first three Tests were all about embracing the mayhem. To Lyon's credit, he was willing to set aside his pride and accept the challenge of overcoming the hostile nature of the surface. Both Murphy and his mentor took the lead. He maintained consistency in his lengths, setting up Ravindra Jadeja's wicket with outstanding control and length deception.
In an odd way, the placid pitch and the leisurely tempo of the game also let Lyon to change bowling coach regularly on the field. After all, he is accustomed to the other, more predictable side of playing Test cricket in this region of the world. In Galle during the second Test in Sri Lanka, when Dinesh Chandimal scored his infamous double ton, he bowled his previous longest session of 64 overs.
In recent years, it has seemed as though the lengthy, grueling nature of Test cricket on Indian soil is a thing of the past. Yet, Ahmedabad's pitch and surrounding circumstances over the past several days would have felt like a true throwback to a season or two ago when the longest format was indeed long when played in India. That involves maintaining composure, yes, but it also entails exercising greater discipline than even on a turning track, where you can occasionally get your radar off. The challenge for the hitters at the other locations was to trust their defense; but, at the Narendra Modi Stadium, the challenge has been for the bowlers to trust their stock ball.
On a better day, Lyon would have finished with more wickets since it is what they did best. Murphy caught up quickly and already in the early stages of his career seemed to have developed more than most young spinners do in their first few seasons at this level. He eventually got rid of Virat Kohli for the fourth time in four Tests, which may be the last time this series.
As a bowler, there were occasions when you couldn't help but feel slightly frustrated when things didn't go your way despite your best efforts. Yet doing it is a necessary element of playing Test cricket in its lengthy grind. When a catch off Patel's bat through the slip area went begging, even Lyon did toss his head back in agony.
Cameron Green, who bowled one of his longest spells of his career over the course of the two days and improved his reverse swing with each over, also learned a lot. The young all-rounder's takeaways from the tour, in addition to his first-ever Test hundred, were only enhanced by the fact that Steve Smith used Green in a variety of roles, even getting him to bowl six bouncers in one over. Smith continued to move the field around with great enthusiasm.
In addition, the lessons they learned in Ahmedabad will help them finish their education and become a stronger force in this region, just as the victory in Indore was significant for the current Australian team.
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