Another late call, another long travel, and now Matthew Kuhnemann is part of the Australian Test squad to tour India. 13 First-Class games, 35 wickets and just hours after the Sheffield Shield fixture against Victoria, the all-rounder will now be on that 12 hour journey from Melbourne to Delhi.
Throughout his life, the left-arm spinner has been at the right place at the right time.
If anything, he must be used to chaotic call-ups by now, considering how he played for Australia in the very first place, when he had to be transported hours before the start of the second ODI against Sri Lanka in Pallekele.
“I was heading to Kandy, I had to get transported there, did not have a clue on whether I was going to be in the playing XI or not,” Kuhnemann opened up on his ODI debut to Cricket.com, six months ago in Chennai.
“So, I went to the ground, introduced myself to the guys. It was all very fast. I was very fortunate to have Marnus (Labuschagne) and Sweppo (Mitch Swepson) there, so it was a little easy for me.
“I took in everything and when I found out that I was playing, it was just incredible. But yeah, I did not get much sleep before the game. After the game as well, I was trying to pinch myself. It was a really cool experience.”
On his debut, the left-arm spinner was thrown the ball pretty early in the game, in the second over, and he took that challenge like a fish to water. It was the dream SLA ball, the one which drifts-in and spins away from the right-hander, that landed him his first ODI wicket.
Over the course of the series, Kuhnemann was presented with plenty of challenges — bowling in the powerplay, bowling at the death and even batting to win a game for Australia.
But now, eight months on, the ultimate challenge beckons the 26-year-old — of bowling to the Indian batters in India.
Like his part in Sri Lanka, the left-arm spinner will go into the second Test in Delhi without a clue on whether he would be part of the playing XI or not, considering Australia’s dismal start to the much-awaited Test series.
The 26-year-old would have been itching his hands while watching the first Test between India and Australia in Nagpur. The pitch had plenty of assistance for the tweakers: provided that they were accurate and they varied their pace, success was right there for the taking.
It might be his first call-up in the longest format but the Queenslander knows a thing or two about playing in Asian conditions, having played previously in Sri Lanka representing Australia 'A'.
It won’t be his first tour to India either, having travelled all the way to be part of the select group of Australian cricketers for the MRF Academy camp — a group that included Todd Murphy and Tanveer Sangha among others — where they acclimated to the conditions.
But unlike Sri Lanka, where the ball usually starts turning from the first session, India presents a different challenge, one where the spinners have to be constantly donning the thinking hat, changing the pace and lengths accordingly.
“The pitches are very different though (in India), it is a lot flatter here and then it tends to spin more later in the game. Being able to bowl on flat wickets is very important,” Kuhnemann said while finding his groove for Indian conditions, bowling at the Pachaiyappa's College Cricket ground in Chennai.
“Me, personally, I want to improve on getting my arm to be a bit wider-more armed. The local spinner here at the MRF Academy suggested that I bowl a bit more square.”
Kuhnemann’s story isn’t any different from Ashton Agar, who came out saying that he has been heavily influenced and inspired by the Player of the Match in Nagpur and one of India’s best all-rounders in the longest format, Ravindra Jadeja.
It isn’t a shocker that the 26-year-old looks up to Jadeja, considering the damage that the Indian all-rounder has done to the Australians, with 70 Test wickets, averaging 18.1.
One of the many things that the left-arm spinner has picked from watching a whole lot of Jadeja is the ability to use the crease and churn up variations.
“I think Ravindra Jadeja,” he said, when asked which current spinner he looks up to.
“Jadeja’s had success all around the world now. He sort of has adapted his game to suit the conditions. He did very well in Australia as well the last time. Jadeja is an absolute weapon in India, obviously. In India, he is one of the best.
“I love watching Axar Patel as well. I definitely love watching Lyon as well, especially in conditions that don’t turn a lot.”
Kuhnemann is a quintessential cricket buff, so much so that he spends hours and hours on YouTube and with the analysts watching games of the past, nit-picking the nitty gritty of other spinners, from the past and the present. It would be fitting should he debut in India, the mecca of all sub-continental conditions if the opportunity presents itself.
“Just taking these small things from the bowlers, the top-spin from Lyon, the seam position like Jadeja or Axar and stuff like that. A lot of Axar, a lot of Jadeja and Steve O’Keefe as well, I love watching cricket. Some of the best Test matches are in the sub-continent, it is really exciting.”
Being a left-arm spinner, Kuhnemann could perhaps call himself a very lucky man for learning his trade from the elite company of Daniel Vettori and Steve O’Keefe, both of whom have had success in the sub-continent.
Whilst he has tracked O’Keefe heavily since the start of his cricketing days, it was the constant learning that helped the Queenslander build his own portfolio. Once he was part of the Australian ‘A’ setup, the opportunity to study Vettori closely presented itself.
“I just go and pick their brains (Dan Vettori), they are always on the same page. SOK (Steve O’Keefe) was awesome, he had that mindset of bowling at the same spot and making the batter do something different,” the left-arm spinner reflected.
“Working with Vettori in Sri Lanka was a bit different. He talked to me about changing the wrist position and some subtle tweaks. Working with (Nathan) Lyon as well, he is just the best off-spinner I have seen. He believes in bowling your best deliveries, those kinds of things you just take out from each player.”
Kuhnemann’s call-up: a blessing in disguise for Australia?
From an Australian perspective, there were plenty of takeaways from the Nagpur Test. One of the more significant ones was how the tourists missed an accurate left-arm spinner that turns the ball away from the right-hander and provides variety.
As outstanding as Todd Murphy was on debut, not having to worry about being constantly beaten on the outside edge made the life of the Indian righties a lot easier.
Given all the talk around how the management were not keen on playing Swepson due to his inaccuracy, Kuhnemann’s selection comes as sort of a blessing in disguise for the visitors.
They now get an SLA that’s not only accurate but a genuinely better red-ball bowler than the existing option in the squad, Agar.
Agar was shoe-horned into the squad on the basis of his experience and white-ball exploits but the Western Australian, at the FC level, has been outperformed by Kuhnemann on all fronts.
The Queenslander has been the better wicket-taker, has a significantly better average and strikes at a rate that’s nearly twice as better than his Western Australian counterpart.
Kuhnemann has played a FC match in Asia more recently than Agar — he took 2/41 against Sri Lanka ‘A’ last year — and in December, representing Cricket Australia XI, he took 4/78 against the South African batting line-up versus whom Agar went wicketless across 22 overs.
Above all, what gives the Queenslander the edge is the mere fact that, in the last two years, he’s played 10 more first-class games than Agar. Red-ball cricket is his forte and, unlike Agar, picking him would not be a risk.
Kuhnemann probably should have been on the flight to India in the first place, but as the saying goes, it’s better late than never.
“I want to play as many games for Australia. For me, it is to keep learning and enjoying my game. Especially these kinds of tours and with such a group, I just want to learn as much as possible. The goals just are about me becoming a better bowler. So, the goal really is to play a lot of games," Kuhnemann told this website when he was in Chennai.
In five days' time in Delhi, the left-arm spinner might very well be playing what could be the first of many Tests for Australia.
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