When you watch James Pattinson bowl as he did today – with pace, confidence and intelligence - you are drawn to the immense skill on view. Then when you sit back and consider that he is a rookie in his fourth Test, you can only marvel at what the future holds for Australian pace bowling.
At 21, Pattinson has years ahead of him and is the future of Australia's bowling. He has now galloped to 24 wickets from three and a half Tests, including ten in this series. He's not just getting wickets, he’s getting big wickets. In Melbourne: Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni. In Sydney: Gautam Gambhir, Sehwag, Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar. And we still have another innings to go.
Michael Clarke has been content_cn using Pattinson for short bursts and it has produced results. In India's first innings at the MCG, he took 2 for 55 in five spells, four of which were of five overs and one three. In the second innings, Pattinson's match-winning 4 for 53 was spread across three spells of five overs.
His success on day one at the SCG was again the result of pace, movement and determination over three short bursts. Pattinson is a red-faced fast bowler, and there's nothing quite like an early wicket to set his juices pumping. With the third ball of the match, he turned Gambhir almost inside out with wickedly jagging away movement and bounce and flew to first slip, and India's foreboding was tangible.
In his first spell (4-0-13-1) Pattinson appeared to be locating the ideal mode to operate with, often hitting it back of a length or spraying it too wide. But in his second and most lethal spell (6-3-12-2), he located a full, fast and outswinging channel and crippled India.
It was devastatingly clinical: hone in on a fullish length on and around off stump and reap the rewards. Sehwag pushed and nicked to Brad Haddin and Laxman drove a thick outside edge to third slip. In his third spell (4-0-18-1), Pattinson picked up the biggest wicket of them all, as Tendulkar chased width and dragged the ball back onto his stumps.
During the lunch break, former New Zealand fast bowler Danny Morrison revealed Richard Hadlee's mantra on the tour of Australia in 1987-88 – pitch it up. Hadlee's logic was that quick bowlers were going to get lift off Australia's bouncy surfaces as it was, so why not pitch it up to induce false strokes? The New Zealand legend backed his words by topping the wickets' tally with 18.
Interestingly, the bowler who finished just behind Hadlee with 17 wickets all those years ago, Craig McDermott, is now Australia's bowling coach. His influence is evident in the success of Australia's quicks. McDermott's mantra to the fast bowlers has been to pitch it up and the results were evident at the Gabba in December, where Pattinson unraveled New Zealand with quick away-swinging deliveries, as well as at the MCG and SCG. Twice in three innings Tendulkar has been dismissed on the drive to wide deliveries, and no doubt McDermott would have made note of that.
Australia's performance was a throwback to the 90s and early 2000s, when their fast bowlers regularly harassed visiting teams at home. Pattinson led the way and Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle chipped in with three apiece, never letting India settle. By the time Nathan Lyon appeared, India had lost half their side. For the third innings, Australia's three quicks again defied predictions that they would struggle to contain India's big bats. Yet again, they reduced India to another limp display.
Unlike 2003-04, when a Sourav Ganguly-led India fought Australia tooth and nail, or 2007-08, when Anil Kumble's side bounced back from two defeats to win in Perth, this Indian team resembles sides of the 90s. Back then, touring Indian teams landed in Australia with little expectation - Jaywant Lele, anyone? - and routinely resumed the role of cannon fodder for mighty Australian sides.
This series is threatening to do down that route as well, for this Australian side has dominated India with the ball like sides from the 90s and early 2000s used to. Zaheer Khan's three quick strikes gave India leverage, and the key to his success was the same as Pattinson's – he pitched the ball up. David Warner was drawn into a tentative prod as the ball swung away, Shaun Marsh pushed limply at his first ball and nicked to second slip, and Ed Cowan was beaten for pace by a full ball that came back in.
Zaheer clearly picked up from Pattinson's success in keeping the ball up to the batsmen, but his support lacked the same tactical nous. Pattinson has been at the fore of Australia's bullishness and if, as the hosts now expect, they win the series, there's no question where the plaudits will reside.