The Aussie approach of managing expectations while expecting the worst

AUSTRALIA TOUR OF SRI LANKA, 2022

Steve Smith bowls an offbreak during practice © AFP

A couple of hours before David Warner faced a bouncer from off-spinner Maheesh Theekshana in the middle at the Premadasa, Usman Khawaja had to contend with a spitting doosra from Steve Smith in the nets at the back of the stadium. And both seemed quite clueless in trying to counter it. But neither of Australia’s Test openers looked too perturbed or surprised by the untowardness of what had transpired off the pitch. Or perhaps even the prospect of there being more of the same to come over the next three weeks or so.

As Warner put it at the end of the fourth ODI, Australia have come to Sri Lanka expecting “turning wickets”. It sounded more like a declaration than a statement, even if it was not. He did not come across as someone from outside the subcontinent who’d resigned to be put on the stand with a trial of spin. If anything, Warner seemed to be relishing the challenge that is to come in Galle during the two Tests, maybe even looking forward to it.

You could sense it in his reactions too every time a ball ripped past his bat, or it jumped off the surface when the multitude of Sri Lankan spinners were in action. If he did not have a wide smile on his face, Warner was indulging in a chat about it with Niroshan Dickwella behind the stumps. Not to forget his made-up astonishment at Theekshana’s bouncer – or the off-break that fizzed past over his shoulder – not being signaled as “one for the over” by the umpires.

Over in the nets, Khawaja seemed to be enjoying his spin workout too courtesy Smith, who was more or less trying to replicate what the Sri Lankan offies might look like to do come the Tests. With his pads still on, Australia’s premier Test batter was focusing not only on trying to get the deliveries that he was chucking down as off-breaks to turn away from Khawaja but also to get the odd one to go straight through. The one that went through the left-hander’s defenses and hit the top of middle-stump did a lot more than just straighten from the around the wicket angle. So much so that both Khawaja and Smith were quite taken aback by it. While Khawaja wondered if he was better off playing more off his back foot, the experienced duo came to the conclusion that a vicious doosra that turns in the other way with such dramatic effect was an oddity and was not the kind that you could really prepare went. And they went back to working on the more controllable aspects of preparing for a raging turner, which generally centers around playing the line of the ball and not the perceived amount of turn off the pitch. At one point, Khawaja even did away with Michael Di Venuto’s throwdowns and stuck to facing Smith. And only once satisfied with his session did he walk away, still chatting away with his long-time batting partner, who then of course preceded to have a lengthy net of his own. As Smith eventually got done with his nearly 90-minute net, you got the feeling that these were still very early days of the Australian preparation for their inevitable inquisition by Lasith Embuldeniya and Ramesh Mendis in Galle.

That Sri Lanka won the ODI series against all odds is the kind of fillip that this country so desperately has needed for a while. It’s given Sri Lankans everywhere an added belief that as bleak as their immediate future may seem now, their countrymen have not lost the ability to fight their way back from the tightest and darkest corner. Being at the Premadasa on Tuesday night was quite an experience. Whether you walked into the cheap seats or the grandstand, the buzz and the excitement around their team wasn’t just palpable, it was infectious. Like at that moment, as they swayed to the Baila,you wanted to drop your cape of objectivity and start cheering for the home team.

So, when the game finally reached the dramatic climax with skipper Dasun Shanaka needing to defend 5 runs off the last ball, there was a dreadful vibe of “Oh you can not take this joy away from us too” among the 30,000 partisan Sri Lankans around the ground. Followed by course by the proverbial roof coming off when Matthew Kuhnemann skied the slower ball to short cover.

Warner relishes the turning pitches

Warner relishes the turning pitches © AFP

For Warner and the Aussies, especially those staying behind for the Tests, the ODI series, the result notwithstanding, might ironically have been the best kind of preparation for the Test trial in Galle. And you’d expect the likes of Warner & Co to be quite excited about the rather inconsequential final ODI on Friday (June 24).

“We’re always expecting turning wickets and it’s fantastic preparation for us … it’s great practice leading into the Test series. We actually love that they’re playing on the wickets back-to-back, that’s what we want, we can ‘t get that practice in the nets – the nets are green. For us, it’s great practice out in the middle with these dustbowls. It’s going to be exciting for the Test matches in Galle because we know what we’re going to get there , “Warner said.

A lot of how Australia go over the two weeks in Galle will be read into in terms of their build-up to the highly-anticipated Test tour of India early next year. And while many would assume, to some extent, unfairly that Pat Cummins & Co will be greeted with rank turners and dustbowls by the Indians, they are likelier to face more extreme conditions here. And Warner said as much.

“This is extreme spin, you do not usually see these types of wickets, you only see them here. India is completely different, they’re actually good wickets and they turn day three and four. It’s about being busy – I remember playing in Dhaka, that was one of the worst wickets I’ve ever played on, and I made a hundred. It’s about committing, it’s about concentration and it’s about batting long periods of time. ”

You could see from the way Khawaja was looking to adjust his game post the delivery that went through his gate, that the potential success of the Aussies in Galle will depend on how much they play the spinners with their feet and how little they do so in their heads. And Khawaja did start playing the off-spin a lot more off the back foot than he had at the start of his session. It’s a technique that worked wonders for him in Pakistan after all. Over to Warner.

“In one-day cricket you’ve got to try and go for it, so it actually helps you be positive. You can take that into the Test match series – use your feet, get deep in your crease, come at them a little bit. We’ve seeing what they’re going to deliver. These are things that we expect (and) that happened in 2016 – it’s just there’s no Rangana Herath (on this occasion). They’ve obviously got other spinners who are in their Test team but it’s nothing that’s going to be unexpected for us. ”

And for now, despite the reversal in the ODIs, their focus on managing their expectations while expecting the worst but without getting too overwhelmed by what is to come could well be the perfect recipe for success when they set off on their coastal ride down to Galle .

© Cricbuzz

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