Todd Murphy and Nathan Lyon have enough contrast to function effectively as a spin tandem in India, according to the man who had a significant hand in mentoring both.
Craig Howard, who has worked with Lyon at various points over the past decade, and first spotted Murphy bowling off-spin in country Victoria as a teenager, said the 22-year-old Nagpur debutant had been well-schooled in how to bowl in India.
Todd Murphy and Matthew Renshaw hug after the former was capped to make his Test debut for Australia in Nagpur.Credit:Getty Images
So much so, Howard reckoned that Murphy’s appreciation for different seam positions and variations would make him a useful counterpoint to Lyon’s formidable stock ball and consistency.
Murphy edged out left-armer Ashton Agar for the second spin spot, the first time two frontline off-spinners have been chosen for Australia since Tim May and Peter Taylor in Pakistan in 1988 – or Gavin Robertson and Colin Miller, also in Pakistan, 10 years later.
“If they’re by far and away the two best options, then I think it makes sense to go down that path,” Howard told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald from Cape Town, where he is spin coach for New Zealand women at the Twenty20 World Cup. ″They are very different in what they do and how they go about it.
“Murph has had to manipulate his seam a little bit more because his stock ball isn’t quite as brutish as Nathan’s at the moment. So, he’s certainly able to bowl with more variation than Nathan had. I think they’ll be very different.”
Murphy’s spin education has been global in nature virtually from the moment he started training with Howard at Sandhurst Cricket Club in Bendigo, before moving to Melbourne to play for St Kilda, Victoria and ultimately Australia.
“He’s very well versed in what he needs to do in these conditions,” Howard said. “Even the spin weeks and spin months we had up in Brisbane where he’s bowling on the red clay wickets, we have subcontinent weeks up there. So, he’s done a lot of that from the age of 17.
”He’s been to the MRF academy in India twice now and went to Sri Lanka as well. So, he’s done a lot of it, a lot more than Nathan would have done at the same age. So, he’s had to learn through that to be adaptable with his seam position because he knows what he has to do in Australia doesn’t always work in those conditions.
“In Australia you’ve got to bowl with really high overspin and, technically, he’s really well set up to do that. That’s the hardest part of bowling off-spin. But then you’ve got to have the ability to adapt to highly abrasive conditions where you can bowl into the wicket more, higher side spin, undercut and all those things you need.”
Something that Howard, and also teammates and opponents of Murphy agree upon is that he possesses an innate desire to get into a contest, providing plenty of presence and challenge to batters in the middle, despite a bookish, bespectacled appearance.
“He’s got an incredible will and competitive spirit,” Howard said. “That’s certainly come out at all the levels he’s played and kept him in good stead. It is something he’s been able to maintain, a strong presence out there for such a young person as well.
“He just needs to be pretty clear on what his plans are, the angles he’s trying to deliver it from, where he’s trying to pitch it, whether he’s trying to skid it or spin it. Really clear on strategy and not over attack.
“In these conditions, as long as they get their strategy right, be able to stay on and bowl for long periods, then there should be enough balls that have the batter’s name on it for him to build pressure and take wickets. It’s not rocket science in these conditions.”
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