Australia coach Mickey Arthur has said Usman Khawaja and Steven Smith will both be strongly considered for the third Test in Mohali after the team’s innings defeat in Hyderabad. However, Arthur also said the group of batsmen on tour in India was the best Australian cricket had to offer and it was important to provide them with as much experience as possible in different conditions to allow them to develop into more rounded Test players.
Australia’s batting in Hyderabad was so poor that they couldn’t even manage in both innings what Cheteshwar Pujara and M Vijay compiled in their 370-run partnership. Australia were back at the ground in Hyderabad on Wednesday for a centre-wicket training session on what should have been the fifth day of the Test and the batsmen spent plenty of time working against spin.
Arthur, Michael Clarke and new selector on duty Rod Marsh have a week to decide on the line-up for the third Test but having been flummoxed by spin in both Tests and the tour match, Phillip Hughes is the man whose position appears in most danger. With Clarke’s move up the order now confirmed, if Smith or Khawaja was to play it would likely be at No. 5.
“Usman Khawaja and Steven Smith have got to come into the reckoning at some stage,” Arthur said. “When we have more of the same it will probably give us the same result. We are certainly going to have to have a look at what is our best top-six combination. We’d be silly if we didn’t think about them. Whether they both play, whether one plays, whether none plays I’m not 100% sure but they’ve got to come very much into our thinking.”
Despite the potential for changes, Arthur believes the struggles of the batsmen in India does not change the fact that the selectors have assembled the best group available. Hughes is the leading run-scorer this Sheffield Shield season and at the age of 24 has accumulated 21 first-class centuries, Ed Cowan continually makes starts at Test level, David Warner is a potential match-winner and Shane Watson’s ability is vast, but so is the drought since his last Test hundred.
“I see that for us as our greatest challenge, making these guys the best we can possibly be,” Arthur said. “If you looked at how we went in Australia, Eddie Cowan is a fighter. He has continually done enough. Is he going to win us games? Not sure. We need more runs out of Shane Watson. Phillip Hughes came back into the side and was successful in conditions that he was used to. It was always going to be tough for him here.
“Davey Warner averaged 47 in our international Test series in Australia. It’s a challenge for him playing outside. We’ve just got to get as much experience into these players as we possibly can, because I do think they’re the best players. There’s absolutely no doubt. I’ve looked at a lot of players. This is our best young crop of batsmen that we have. We’ve just got to make them the best they can possibly be and try to fast-track them.
“I think they’re realising some harsh lessons about playing in India. When I stood up at the start of the tour and said to them ‘this is going to be the toughest cricket you’ve ever played’, they looked and said ‘yeah yeah right’. They’re now realising it and they’re like leeches for information. They’re shocked at how hard it is.”
As part of their strategies against spin, Hughes and Warner both tried to sweep R Ashwin early in their second innings in Hyderabad and perished doing so. After the match, Clarke said he was disappointed at the amount of cross-batted shots that had cost batsmen their wickets early in their innings and Arthur said those two dismissals in particular had raised his ire.
“Our whole conversation around this second Test match was about playing with a vertical bat not a horizontal bat,” Arthur said. “So when we lost two wickets to the sweep I wasn’t best pleased, put it that way, our first two wickets. Especially as our briefing that morning had been ‘I hope you all noticed about how Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay went about their business’.
“Until they learn the harsh lessons of getting out and possibly losing their place because of it, they’re not going to realise it. When you’re batting and there’s a lot of fielders around the bat, there’s a massive TV audience and you can’t score a run, you feel as if you can’t get away. When there’s no fielder there it’s very easy to think ‘I’m going to play my cards here because if I get on there, I score’. I keep telling them there’s a reason why there’s no fielders there. They want you to hit there. You’re putting yourself in danger.”
But as well as the younger members of the batting order, Australia desperately need more from their vice-captain, Watson, whose top score so far in the Test series is 28. Watson’s last Test century came when Australia last visited Mohali on the 2010 tour. While Watson might benefit from the return to a productive venue with more in it for the fast men, Arthur said he didn’t feel that Watson had been in bad form.
“I don’t think it’s a technique thing at all,” he said. “Every time he has gone to the wicket, he has looked brilliant. But he’s been getting out for 20s. I just pray every time he goes to the wicket there’s a big score because I think once he gets that one big score, that will unlock the shackles. We really need Shane Watson firing now. Michael Clarke needs a lot of support in the batting.”
After the Hyderabad loss, Clarke said that he had no choice but to move up from No. 5 and Arthur said while Clarke’s new position was not decided, he would be comfortable with the best player of spin at No. 3 or No. 4 in the Indian conditions.
“It has to happen and Michael [Clarke] and I have been discussing it often,” Arthur said. “It was fine when he was at five and we had Michael Hussey at six, there was batting down. He likes batting five, he’s got a great record batting at five but when it starts impacting on our first innings and he starts running out of partners, then we thought it was time for us to have a look at it and he ran out of partners in the first innings. I don’t mind if he bats three in the subcontinent. I would like Michael four in conditions outside of the subcontinent. He’s good enough to bat anywhere, that’s a given.”