Before the final day of the Ranchi Test, Australian coach Darren Lehmann was a worried man. One factor weighed in heavily on his mind. It was the left-arm spin of Ravindra Jadeja. In the first innings, he picked up his third five-wicket haul in five Tests and in the Australia’s second innings, he had taken out David Warner and Nathan Lyon. In the post-match press conference, Lehmann stressed on the need to come up plans to combat Jadeja in order to survive.
“Going to have to come up with a plan to combat Jadeja but we’ve worked on that and you’ll probably see it. For us it’s a great challenge,” the Australian coach said.
On day 5, the Australian batsmen heeded Lehmann’s advice and produced a magnificent rearguard effort to thwart India and draw a Test in the country for the first time since 2008. Led by Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh’s epic 124-run stand off 62.1 overs, the series remained tied 1-1.
Australia had combated Jadeja admirably but the Saurashtra spinner still enjoyed a magnificent match, finishing with overall figures of 93.3-26-178-9. Heading into the final Test in Dharamsala, Smith will be aware of the damage Jadeja can produce.
Left-arm spin bogey haunts Australia
Australia’s struggles in the sub-continent have suggested that they struggle against spin. However, a deeper analysis reveals that the team’s struggles against spin in the sub-continent have primarily been against left-arm spin.
In the 2014 series against Pakistan in the UAE, it was 36-year-old left-arm orthodox spinner Zulfiqar Babar who wrecked havoc. He picked up 14 wickets in two Tests at an average of 26.35, including two five-wicket hauls, as Pakistan secured their first Test series win over Australia in over 20 years. The 2-0 scoreline was the beginning of Australia’s nightmare.
In 2016 against Sri Lanka, Australia’s pain was prolonged by brilliance from 38-year-old Rangana Herath. His accuracy, variations, dip and flight combined brilliantly as he ran through Australia in all the three Tests to finish with 28 wickets at an average of 12.75. Herath’s exploits helped Sri Lanka achieve their first series win over Australia in 17 years as they whitewashed Smith’s men 3-0.
In the current series against India, it has been Jadeja who has been the chief destroyer. In 2013, he had hurt Australia with 24 wickets in four Tests as India achieved a 4-0 whitewash for the first time in Tests. In three games in the current series in 2017, he has picked 21 wickets, including a haul of 6/63 in Bangalore which allowed India to level the series. In Ranchi, his unerring accuracy helped him pick up 5/124 as Australia could manage only 451.
All on the line
Before the start of the 2017 series, India held the advantage. They had gone 19 matches without a loss since 2015 while they had not lost a Test series at home since 2012. Australia, on the other hand, had suffered 4-0, 2-0 and 3-0 whitewashes in Asia and had not won a Test in India since 2004.
After three gut-wrenching Tests, both teams are tied 1-1 and Smith has the chance to break the Asian jinx in spectacular style. In order to achieve that, they will have to overcome the left-arm spin factor.