The on-field dispute between Brett Lee and Ricky Ponting has taken a twist with the coach Tim Nielsen saying a poor over-rate was not the main reason the strike bowler was not used in the first session of the fourth day in Mohali. Lee, who has failed to penetrate in his first two Tests in India, argued with Ponting on a morning when the part-time medium pacer Michael Hussey, the debutant Peter Siddle, regular Mitchell Johnson and spinner Cameron White were all preferred to him.
Ponting and Michael Clarke, the captain and vice-captain, both justified the decision by saying the team was about five overs behind the required rate - they also wanted to slow the speed of the ball down - but Nielsen said they were only three behind. It's not a level that would cause any player to fear a fine.
"We made a decision to take pace off the ball," Nielsen said. "You don't see Hussey bowl too often. We changed things around because things weren't working for us. The over-rate wasn't crazily out of control: three down at the time. In the end it was a tactical decision."
The team believes the incident, which featured heavily in Australian papers, was blown out of proportion and Ponting and Nielsen said there was no lingering resentment between the players. However, Nielsen's explanation shows how worried Ponting was over the form of his main bowler, who he did not want to risk when India resumed their target setting at 100 for 1.
"When you're losing Tests, there's a lot of things being made of little issues," Nielsen said. "When you're winning, that's not the case."
Lee delivered eight overs after lunch on the fourth day and took the wicket of Sourav Ganguly before India's declaration. Siddle bowled admirably in his first Test, collecting four wickets, but Lee almost has 300 victims.
"He certainly hasn't got the results he's been looking for," Nielsen said. "He's been indicative of the performances over the two test Tests, he's been a little inconsistent."
Nielsen said Lee was "frustrated" but was fine mentally after a difficult off-season, which included separating from his wife. "He's come from a 15-month period where he's had real impact every time he's been required," he said." In some regards, we've built this series up, it's got a bigger status than normal.
"Brett was keen to have a real impact and when that happens it is easy to get impatient and search for results. He's working hard, he's come off a break from his personal issues and has had a break from not playing in Darwin. All those things have added up to him being a little bit off the boil."
Nielsen felt the bowlers were too impatient in Mohali, where India's batsmen worked the side into a position to set Australia 516 for victory. "We were searching for results quickly because we felt like we were under pressure," he said. "These conditions are unrelenting, if you're not quite right with your skills you get shown out."
|"He's working hard, he's come off a break from his personal issues and has had a break from not playing in Darwin. All those things have added up to him being a little bit off the boil"Tim Nielsen on Brett Lee|
When the squad reconvenes in Delhi on Sunday the bowlers will continue their quest to discover the secrets of reverse-swing. They were behind when England used it spectacularly in 2005 and are desperate to catch up following the highly effective tricks of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma over the past two weeks.
"We've tried a few different things, like bowling across seam," Nielsen said. "We're working on getting one side rougher, and doing it legally, which is the challenge." Troy Cooley, the bowling coach in charge of England three years ago, should be able to help and has told the bowlers to hold the ball across the seam, like the Indians do.
"We haven't been able to put the ball in the right place often enough, when it's been swinging or not," Nielsen said. "Sharma and Khan build up big pressure and it's difficult to score. There's more pressure on batsmen for longer periods."
Stuart Clark's fitness will be tested early next week after he missed the second Test with an elbow injury. He had a cortisone injection before the second match and will be expected to bowl regularly before proving he is ready to return. If he can, he will get his spot back.
"Stuart has played so well for us over the past couple of years," Nielsen said. "Given his elbow comes right, you'd expect him to come back into the team."