Spinner says Proteas' plans will suit Lyon
Shane Warne knows from first-hand experience the sorts of unforeseen problems that can emanate from pre-fabricating Test pitches in order to play to the strengths of the home team.
In much the same way that the South African hierarchy reportedly requested pitches that would aid their top-ranked seam bowling attack in the current series against Australia, Warne recalls his previous visit to the Rainbow Nation as part of an Australian team in 2006.
That was when, following Warne’s 14 wickets in the preceding three-Test series in Australia, the South Africans decided green, seaming tracks were the best way to blunt the legspinner’s influence and enhance their own chances of redressing the balance.
It backfired spectacularly in the opening Test at Cape Town where Stuart Clark, making his Test debut in place of Glenn McGrath who was unavailable for that tour, cut a swathe through the home team’s batting with match figures of 9-84 and led Australia to a seven-wicket win.
As it turned out, Warne captured 15 wickets at 28.20 in that series which Australia won three-nil and he had some words of caution for Test nations that believe preparing pitches to amplify their strengths and/or nullify those of touring team fits within the notion of home-ground advantage.
“I reckon the curator should take pride in his wickets and prepare the best wickets he possibly can,” Warne said today after joining the Australian touring party to help them prepare for the third and final Test at Newlands as well as the upcoming Twenty20 World Cup in Bangladesh.
“I’m not an advocate or a believer that they prepare wickets to suit the home team, I don’t think that’s right.
“Each to their own, that’s fine, but they’ve got to be a little bit careful it doesn’t backfire.
“I was interested to see if they were going to (produce) green seamers (in this series) and just back their batsmen against our batsmen – (with) two quality pace attacks.
“It would have been a low scoring, tough contest and I think after the last Test (at Port Elizabeth) the way they bowled and the way it’s panned out, this wicket (at Cape Town) is going to be as dry and as flat as it possibly can.”
It would appear the South Africans learned that lesson the hard way at Centurion, where one of the fastest, bounciest pitches seen there in years played into the hands of Mitchell Johnson and his fellow quicks and Australia cantered to a 281-run victory.
Following that, the pitch at Port Elizabeth was – in keeping with the venue – drier and lower and the South African bowlers were able to make far better use of whatever bounce was available as well as the conditions for reverse swing bowling that ultimately decided the outcome.
But with predictions of a dry, flat pitch at Newlands – which Warne inspected closely following his first training session with the Australian in his new, cameo role as “consultant/mentor” – Australia’s most successful Test bowler can see encouraging signs for the tourists in the series decider.
“I think spin will play a big part in this Test match,” Warne said, after he worked closely with Test off-spinner Nathan Lyon in the nets at Newlands.
“I think as we saw in that last Test with the reverse swing, South Africa – like most other countries – prepare wickets to suit their team.
“They will have a pretty coarse dry wicket here in Cape Town so it will reverse swing a lot, but also it brings the spinners in.
“We’ve got an advantage over South Africa with Nathan Lyon bowling so well.
“They will probably rely on part-timers (JP) Duminy and Dean Elgar, so it would be nice to post a big score first innings (score).”
Warne has returned to the Australian fold in large part due to his close friendship with his former Australian teammate and current national coach, Darren Lehmann.
Lehmann has made no secret of the fact he wants former Australian greats to be closely involved with the current Test and limited-overs set-ups, to help his players develop an appreciation of what has gone before as well as to improve their games with inspiration and advice from those who have been there.
Throughout his celebrated career Warne regularly queried the need for coaches at the elite level, claiming that players who had reached that standard clearly knew and understood the fundamentals of a forward defensive shot and how to land the ball on a length.
But he sees his role as more of a sounding board, or one of those consultants who turns up at a business to cast a learned eye over operations and identify where greater efficiencies can be made, as well as where the strengths and weaknesses lie.
And he sees Lehmann’s role as national coach in a similar light.
“I think he's doing a fantastic job, he’s created an environment where there are pretty high standards,” Warne said of his mate and fellow mentor.
“We all know he's laid back and likes a beer and is pretty relaxed, but he can also be pretty tough.
“And he does it in a way that's charming – he's friendly when he's nailing you.
“It's always nice when there's a bit of that happening rather than just the old size 10 (boot up the backside). But I think he's brought a lot to the table.
“He's always had respect for the way he played the game, and he's earned a lot of respect from the group for the way he's conducted himself.
“He's learned a few lessons along the way, probably not to do radio interviews when he's had a few beers.
“But he's straight up, what you see is what you get, which is a good thing from a coach.
"If you're out of the side he'll tell you why, it won't be like 'I voted for you but the other three guys didn't’ – he'll tell you straight."
While Warne only had Lehmann pencilled in for the role of assistant coach in his wide-ranging, four-part manifesto for the revamp of Australian cricket he released in 2013 – he suggested former New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming for the coach’s role – he remains an unashamed admirer of Lehmann’s methods.
"He's always understood and loved the game, always had a passion for the game and that hunger for knowledge,” Warne said.
“He's always done that, and that's why I've always said about coaching that it's not all about technique, maybe there's a better word than coach.
“He's more of a mentor, he looks after them, gets their minds right, speaks to them, makes them feel good.
“Yes he runs the drills for them, but Mitchell Johnson, Michael Clarke, Ryan Harris and those guys, you're not coaching them how to bowl, you're talking about making them feel good for the Test match and talking to them tactically.
“He's always been good on the tactical and strategy side, and if there is something that comes into their game he's got enough knowledge that he can coach a little bit of that stuff if he has to.
“Maybe you guys (media) know a better word, but if coach it is, then coach it is.”
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia
First Posted 28 February, 2014 6:44PM AEST