Australia cricket August 15, 2014

Subcontinent lessons for Australia's youngsters

Australia's National Performance Squad, guided by Greg Chappell, is on a short India tour and the focus is on honing skills that can help the youngsters do well in varied conditions

A query about the departing batsman's score. A follow-up regarding the partnership. A mental note made. A little trip across to survey a drill conducted by the fitness and conditioning coach. Engaging with the media. Shepherding the Australia National Performance Squad members, most of whom were on their first trip to India. It was a long day for Greg Chappell.

But he doesn't mind. He has been involved in youth cricket for quite some time as Cricket Australia's national talent manager. The NPS squad spent three months in Brisbane, tussled in a quadrangular series with Australia A, South Africa A and India A in July and now, having received an invitation from the Karnataka State Cricket Association, they are in Alur, a few kilometres outside Bangalore for a couple of three-day matches.

"It's a rewarding field to work in," Chappell said. "They are at an age where they are prepared to try a few things and a few small changes can make a big difference. This is a talented group. They've blended well together. They're keen to learn. We wanted them to play some cricket before the end of the [NPS] program and we wanted to finish by playing first-class games."

A tour to the subcontinent throws up alien conditions and oppositions the NPS side would normally not have faced. Such challenges hone a vital component of developing an all-round game, according to Chappell.

"They'll learn how to adapt. You don't develop that in the nets," Chappell said. 'If we want to develop adaptable cricketers, we have to force them to adapt. We have to give them different conditions in which to train and play and compete. And it should have consequences. In training, you might hit the ball well but in match-conditions that could have gone to the fielder or been caught. The only way a player can grow is by playing cricket and knowing that his mistakes could be fatal and learning from them.

"The best lesson is when you've got out and you watch someone else make your runs. You'll realise that 'I don't want this to happen anymore. I want to be the one out there making the runs.' You can see it's hurting the player and hopefully they'll learn from it."

Jordan Silk, the captain, would have hoped for a long day as a top-order batsman but he returned early, having nicked a good delivery in the 40s. He had, however, done what was asked of him.

"Coming from Australia, there's a lot more turn here than we're used to so being able to use the crease a bit more is crucial. A drill that I've used since coming over is batting without pads on, so it gets me playing out maybe a little bit in front of my pads so there's less of a chance the ball flies out to bat-pad. I know a few of the other boys have used that too."

Silk, 22, carries the reputation of an old-fashioned batsman. His determination and willingness to spend a lot of hours at the crease have earned him four first-class centuries and the Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year in 2014, further stamping him as a player to invest in.

"I think my technique is in good order," Silk said. "My patience, I've been able to grind out the bowlers and play some long innings and also my concentration. I don't see myself as a boring batsman, I actually think I can play shots and score quickly at times as well and they're both things that I've worked very hard on."

James Muirhead had a long day as well, much of it spent waiting. The 21-year old legspinner received a surprise promotion to the senior squad during the T20 series against England last year, and topped that experience in the World T20. He was a beneficiary of Shane Warne's counsel when Australia were touring South Africa and worked with Muttiah Muralitharan in Sri Lanka for a month, prior to his third visit to India.

"With Warnie, it was about key things to remember like when things aren't going all right, what is it? Is it your front arm that's lacking, is it your follow-through, like not following through enough? And there was a lot to do with mind games and field placements," Muirhead said. "Specifically moving people, say two steps, to give the batsman something to think about.

"As a legspin bowler, I want to dominate the batsman. I want to be active and let him know I'm there and that's when I'm bowling at my best. I know batsmen here like to play with the spin and hit me inside out over cover but I feel that brings the close catchers in play. That's another thing I learnt from Warnie as well. He would slow the ball down further if he was hit for six. So that's what I do, I don't get frustrated into bowling quicker.

"Murali taught me about subcontinent batsmen and how to bowl to them. They like to use their feet and hit boundaries, while Australians or South Africans would probably try sweeping. So it's about keeping your consistency and not trying to use your variations as much. Using change of pace with the stock ball and not leaking too many boundaries is important. And in-out fields, how a spinner can attack and defend at the same time."

The NPS side is "two steps away from the top team" according to Chappell and getting them exposed to various conditions will provide a larger pool for Australia. But in addition to training and match practice, the ability to read the game and react to where it is headed is another significant part of the learning process.

"We debrief the day's play. Ask the players what they thought was happening on the field and help them engage in the game more so that when they face it again they know what to do," Chappell said. "Even when they're not playing, we'd like to have them watching the game, have them talking about it and maybe when they face a similar situation, they can handle it and then reflecting back on it they'll say 'Wow, I didn't even know I knew that'."

Silk sought to implement that as captain by reading how comfortable a batsman was facing a bowler, or if a bowler was in good rhythm against a batsman. Muirhead's concerns were with manipulating the batsman's footwork by using big leg-breaks and then sneaking in the flipper. Both players believe their game has expanded and their concentration now is to go back to their state sides and keep improving.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo