One of the features of this Ashes series will be the battle between spinner and batters as the rough patches develop rapidly through each Test match. The weather in the UK has been (relatively) dry for months. The pitches are drier than usual for this time of year.
The Australian left arm seamers will help the rough patches to degrade at an accelerated rate outside the right handed batters off stump. This shall bring Moeen Ali and Nathan Lyon into the game earlier as attacking forces. It is likely that the Stokes, Anderson, Broad and Wood will bowl some overs around the wicket at David Warner, if he stays in long enough. This will also add wear and tear to that rough area.
The developing rough isn't just a problem for the batter. It also creates challenges for the keeper and the bowler as well. I know what you're saying; "Test match spinners shouldn't be challenged by the rough? It should be all their dreams come true!"
For bowlers such as Murali or Warne the rough represented opportunity. For most spinners, the developing footholds can represent a threat.
This threat is the pressure of expectation.
I have seen so many spinners go to bits under this pressure. They are seen as the 'only' wicket taking option in the last innings. There are men all around the bat for long periods which also builds pressure on the bowler to perform. Often, the reality is that the bowler's shoulders get tight, the hands get sweaty and the ball starts coming out with less energy and revolutions on it.
The bowler shifts his focus to merely landing the ball in the rough rather than spinning the ball hard. Their effectiveness drops, as does their confidence.
I have seen Monty Panesar go to pieces when faced with a huge area of rough outside Graeme Smiths off stump at Edgbaston in 2008 and also in Chennai against Sachin Tendulkar in 2009. Monty has been a fine bowler over the years, so it can happen to anyone.
What can we do to help our spinner overcome the pressure of expectation?
What is success?
Success should be gauged by the amount of revs on the ball rather than where it lands.
This way, the bowler also feels confident in creating pressure through landing the ball on the less rough bits of the pitch as well as the in the footholes.
Whilst we remember the Shane Warne wickets that darted back from the rough to dismiss left handlers, Shane would be the first to recall lots of dismissals in the last innings from balls that missed the rough by a fair margin.
Glenn McGrath recently revealed that he often sang a song inside his head at the end of his mark and into his run up to take his mind away from technical thought or pressure. He wanted to be bowling on autopilot rather than in a high state of consciousness.
He did this in particular when faced with seamer friendly conditions or when he was bowling at someone who had the upper hand on him in previous battles. It was a fascinating revelation that I thought would transfer directly over to spinners as well as seamers.
The car mat challenge
Practice is always important yet is very difficult to recreate 4th and 5th day conditions in our training environments. I always carry a number of different car floor mats or door mats in my coaching bag. Some rubber ones, some carpeted ones, some with ridges, some with rubber spikes.
I lay these out in the net when we are training for upcoming matches where the rough is likely be a feature of the game.
The ball reacts differently to the car mats than the grass or artificial wicket that it sits upon. Some spin, some jump or keep low, some spin the other way!
The bowler gets the opportunity to practice using the rough.
The batter figures out strategies and methods that could be used in matchplay and the keepers have to work hard to stay down and react to the different bounces and spins that come from different mats and other parts of the pitch.
This acts as over training principle for the keepers and batters. It's fun and prepares players over and beyond what they are likely to encounter in a game.
Be proactive, be creative and help players prepare strategies to deal with developing rough before they are exposed to it - and fail - in matchplay.