Australia news March 26, 2013

Optimist Arthur hopeful of Australia's Ashes prospects

Death by dust in India will make the the green fields of England seem heavenly for Australia's Test team, which remains on course to be the best outfit in the world within the next two years. No-one could ever accuse Mickey Arthur of being a pessimist, but with the aforementioned statements the national team coach redefined the boundaries of wild optimism while accounting publicly for a deplorable performance on the subcontinent.

On the day national selector, John Inverarity declined to guarantee Shane Watson's place as the vice-captain or even as an Ashes team member, and the seriousness of Michael Clarke's back and hamstring problems were confirmed, Arthur struck an almost alarmingly upbeat note. Yes, he had fussed a great deal over taking a young team to India and all its attendant dangers, but Arthur had no such qualms about England.

"I was always really worried about the conditions in India, especially with a group of young players," Arthur said in Perth. "Because you can sit and tell players what it's like to play there, but until you've actually experienced it, you don't comprehend it. The Ashes conditions are a lot closer to what we're comfortable with, our pace bowlers will be a real factor in England.

"Our batters will be more accustomed to those conditions, so I'm confident everything's still on track. It is disappointing when you have a tour of the subcontinent just before a tour as big as the Ashes, because it does have the ability to pull you off track, but we're firmly on track for the Ashes and conditions will favour us."

As for the team's chances of rising from the mid-table ICC ranking they have occupied since 2010 - alternating between 5th, 3rd and the present 4th - Arthur reiterated his argument that the disciplinary action taken against those players who failed to follow instructions would be the start of the climb back to world No. 1.

"I think we moved forward, moved in the right direction and, hopefully, if we have our time again, this will be the foundation of something really good for the Australian cricket side," Arthur said. "We've said it numerous times now; we could have carried on and been third in the world comfortably, but we don't accept that, we want be No. 1 in the world.

"We've put some stuff in place that we believe can get this team there in the next 24 months."

In India, many of Australia's players did not only look initially unready for the conditions they faced, but were unable to find the technical and mental wherewithal to learn and adapt with each innings. Irrespective of how the team's discipline broke down off the field before four players were suspended from the Mohali Test, those indiscretions were arguably less serious than dismissals indicative of plans being ignored, if there were any in the first place.

The sweeps played by David Warner and Phillip Hughes in Hyderabad, plus a few other inattentive strokes by Watson at various stages, laid bare a lack of thought and application next to the mental toughness and intelligence shown by India's young batsmen. This is a problem that will require cure rather than prevention if, as Arthur suggested, there would be only minimal changes to the 17-man squad for the trip to England.

"It'll be similar, I can't see too many changes," Arthur said. "We felt we took the best players possible to India, barring one or two guys who were struggling with injuries. And we took a couple of guys who were pertinent to subcontinent conditions. But we feel we had our best young batsmen there; to see them grow through the tour was fairly encouraging, we know they've got experience into them now and are going to be better for it."

Arthur added that players knew exactly what they needed to do going forward into the Champions Trophy and the Ashes, but stressed that the side's batting would have to improve. "It's disappointing to have only two hundreds over the last couple of months," he said. "We had a couple of 90s, but we need to start converting and scoring big in that top six. We'll have a real good quartet of bowlers available to us and we just need to get enough runs to be really competitive in the Ashes."

Between three Australia A matches and two tour warm-up fixtures preceding the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge, Arthur and the Australian selectors will have a far better spread of games from which to pick their best side for England. However, Arthur would not accept the suggestion that more might have been done to get the team in the right space to be more competitive in India.

"Everything we did, we've done with a lot of reason behind it that's not always apparent to people who don't know what's going on in the inner sanctum," Arthur said. "We feel we have the best players, they'll be better for the experience. I think the selections have been good, I think we took the best possible squad out there to perform."

Arthur also said that while the selectors and management did everything they could in the run-up to the India series. "I'm confident, as selectors and management, we've done everything in our power to make the guys as good as they can be," he said. "We had spin camps, prepared the guys endlessly, and ultimately you can't replicate those conditions under that pressure."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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