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AUSTRALIA V SRI LANKA TESTS

Reverse swing key to SL Tests: Donald

11 July 2016

Andrew Ramsey, in Colombo


@ARamseyCricket

Andrew Ramsey, in Colombo


@ARamseyCricket

The new fast-bowling coach believes Mitch Starc will be vital to Australia's chances of defeating Sri Lanka on their home soil

Mitchell Starc's ability to conjure reverse swing on the dry, flat pitches of Sri Lanka looms as the key to overcoming Australia's recent Test match woes in subcontinental conditions according to the team's new bowling coach, Allan Donald.

Donald, the former South African pace ace, joined the Australian squad for the first time in Colombo today as the players sweated through a punishing fitness and fielding session in stifling humidity ahead of the opening Test on July 26.

But Donald will be calling the shots at tomorrow's opening nets session of the tour where he will work closely with Australia's pace bowling complement of Starc, Jackson Bird, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mitchell Marsh, Moises Henriques and Josh Hazlewood.

With Hazlewood's involvement in that session dependent on him overcoming the illness that saw him sidelined during today's session at P Sara Stadium as the enervating post-monsoonal conditions took their toll.

First day of training for 🇦🇺 in 🇱🇰 and it's a warm one... 😅 #SLvAUS

A photo posted by cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) on


Donald has been brought into Australia's coaching set-up by Darren Lehmann as an interim replacement for Craig McDermott, and the man dubbed 'White Lightning' at the height of his stellar playing career has an overriding priority for his two-month tenure.

To have Starc and his fellow quicks unlocking the mysteries of reverse swing that Donald believes are integral to teams having success on the subcontinent, and to have them perfect the art that has eluded Australian teams that have won a solitary Test in Asia over the past decade.

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"For me the ball has to swing - there's no excuses for that," Donald told cricket.com.au on his first day in the job having arrived in Colombo from the UK on Sunday night.

"And it has to swing both ways, to keep the unpredictability level up.

"When I say both ways, that has to happen over the wicket and around the wicket.

"I don't think you can come here (to Sri Lanka) in this heat, in this humidity and on these flat decks and be one-dimensional in the way the ball swings.

"It has to swing both ways.

"You get these (batting) partnerships that can go on for hundreds of runs – you need to nip those in the bud as quickly as possible.

"It's going to take creative thinking, a lot of courage, patience, but most of all a helluva lot of attitude to do that all day long if you're in the field for a long time."

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Donald, who took 330 wickets in his 72 Tests for South Africa from 1992-2002 and has more recently worked as bowling coach for the Proteas and in the Indian Premier League, knows from extensive first-hand experience that a pace bowler's greatest sin on subcontinental pitches is predictability.

The key to avoiding that pitfall is not only generating reverse swing, but an ability to keep batsmen guessing as to how and when the skill is imparted.

And Donald is unequivocal in nominating former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram as the art's greatest exponent, with Starc identified as the Australian bowler best qualified to replicate the results that Akram was able achieve during his remarkable career.

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"For me, the bloke that was the best at it was Wasim Akram because you didn't know what was coming," Donald said today.

"You were always guessing and I think that's where we need to go, that's where the skill needs to go.

"When you come here (to Sri Lanka) that's what it requires – to be unpredictable for a long time."

Donald has worked closely with Starc during the pair's recent stints with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL and the South African is an unashamed fan of Australia's left-arm quick.

The results that Starc has gained employing reverse swing with the white ball in limited-overs cricket of late has the new bowling coach in no doubt that he can bring that Akram-esque level of uncertainty to the three-Test series against Sri Lanka.

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"Starc's the one, without a shadow of doubt," Donald said when asked who was best credentialled to deliver those telling spells needed to rattle the Sri Lankans who are expected to pose a far more potent threat on their home turf.

"He's a 150 (kilometre per hour) bowler, he's done it in the World Cup and in Twenty20 cricket.

"I've seen him destroy top orders, middle orders, lower orders doing that same thing from both sides (of the wicket).

"That's where he is at, and that's why he is the leading fast bowler in the world right now.

"He leads that from the front, he just needs to be backed up by the rest of the group so there's a lot of hard work over the next couple of weeks."

Australia warming up ahead of their training session in Colombo

Not that it's solely reverse swing once the ball loses its sheen and hardness that Donald will be stressing when he takes to the nets tomorrow.

He will also be stressing the importance of the new-ball pairing – likely to be Starc and Hazlewood – making early inroads into a Sri Lankan top-order that failed to fire during its recent winless tour to the UK.

"It's massive, the new ball here in Sri Lanka is absolutely golden," Donald said about the need to strike early and regularly at the start of an innings.

"You've got to try and knock over two or three with the new ball.

"It's going to test all your skill over here.

"When you go to the subcontinent and play against Sri Lanka, they are very smart in their backyard.

"They are clever here, they find a way, they grind the opposition down, especially when you bowl first and find yourself on the wrong end of the (coin) toss."

About the Writer

@ARamseyCricket
Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.