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February 19, 2013
Australia's batsmen hope they can exploit the growing pressure on India's spin bowlers when the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series begins in Chennai on Friday. Traditionally, handling quality spin on turning pitches has been viewed as one of the key weaknesses of Australian batsmen and they could face a spin-heavy attack at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, with R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh and the allrounder Ravindra Jadeja all having been named in India's squad.
But the Indian slow men were outbowled by their England counterparts during the Test series late last year, when Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar averaged 24.75 and 26.82 respectively. Ojha was the best of India's spinners in that series with 20 wickets at 30.85, but Ashwin struggled to have any real impact and collected 14 victims at 52.64, while none of Jadeja, Harbhajan or Piyush Chawla were able to hold down a place.
It is that uncertainty that Australia's coach Mickey Arthur hopes his men can use to their advantage when the Test series starts, despite the fact that the India A spinners Jalaj Saxena and Rakesh Dhurv took nine wickets between them in the second warm-up game and forced the Australians to follow on. Arthur said there had been some positive signs from Australia's batsmen, particularly in the way some of them attacked the spinners.
"There's no point in us defending, we have to be showing intent because if we can show intent and put them under pressure I think we could open some chinks in their armour, because the Indian spinners have been under pressure," Arthur said in Chennai. "They didn't win the series against England so the Indian spinners are coming into this series with the weight of expectation on their shoulders. If we get on top of them at any phase of the game, they will be feeling the heat as much as our batsmen are. That's got to be a very firm plan in our mind."
As senior batsmen with Test experience in India, Shane Watson and Michael Clarke will be important in enforcing that aggressive plan. But Arthur said he had also been impressed by the allrounder Moises Henriques, who has a good chance of making his Test debut in Chennai, after he struck two fours and three sixes in an innings of 33 from 41 against India A on Monday.
"If you're going to just defend and not take the game on you're going to get into a rut and you're going to get out sooner or later," Arthur said. "We certainly want them to play with that aggressive intent and he did that."
Following India's 2-1 loss at home to England, it is not only the spinners who will be under pressure to lift their game. There is growing concern within India about Sachin Tendulkar's ongoing lack of runs. In his past 13 Test innings Tendulkar has managed only one half-century, and his last Test hundred came in Cape Town in January 2011. His last Test century at home was during Australia's most recent tour in 2010, but he battled against Michael Clarke's men in Australia last summer.
"We bowled well against him and we will continue to bowl well against him," Arthur said. "It's not a cliche but if we can put their batters under pressure, if we can stop them scoring, we will create opportunities to take wickets and whether that's Sachin or Sehwag, that has to be our primary focus ... He is a class act still, he has a massive aura about him."
But despite Arthur's optimism in some areas, he conceded it would be a monumental task for a developing Australian outfit without Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting to beat India at home. As the coach of South Africa, Arthur oversaw a 1-1 drawn series in 2008 and he said his past experience in India had taught him that it was a place where Test matches could turn rapidly.
"What I do know is that you put India under pressure here, it's as immense as Australia in our home season or England in their home season," Arthur said. "The scrutiny on them is incredible. If we can do that consistently, we can get some really good positive results. You can never relax, because the game appears to be meandering along and within an hour it can change on its head. So if you don't concentrate for the full five days you could get caught short somewhere.
"It's going to be incredibly tough and we know that. History tells you that it's very tough to come here and win. Not many sides do that. We've certainly come with a winning mindset. We're certainly not contemplating anything other than a series win, which I think will take this team hopefully to another level."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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Stats highlights from the first day of the second Test between Australia and India in Brisbane