Henriques to debut in Chennai
Moises Henriques has been given free rein to bat in his natural aggressive style when he becomes Australia's 432nd Test cricketer on Friday in Chennai. Henriques won the battle for the allrounder's position for the first Test against India, beating offspinner Glenn Maxwell for the role after impressive performances with both bat and ball during Australia's two warm-up games over the past eight days.
Australia on Wednesday confirmed their XI and whereas India are expected to play as many as three slow bowlers, Australia included only one specialist spinner, Nathan Lyon, alongside a four-man pace group made up of Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson and Henriques. Maxwell will be the 12th man while Xavier Doherty, Mitchell Johnson, Jackson Bird, Usman Khawaja and Steven Smith were also overlooked.
Australia's selectors are hoping Henriques can have the same effect on the dry pitch at the MA Chidambaram Stadium that he did at the Guru Nanak Ground for the tour matches, where he found reverse swing and hit the right lengths better than any of his fellow pace bowlers. Henriques, 26, collected 4 for 12 in the first game, including two of the top four batsmen.
Against India A in the second outing he took 1 for 30 and scored 33 from 41 balls including three sixes, an innings that followed the aggressive approach the Australians intend to use against India's spinners. His efforts impressed the coach Mickey Arthur, who told Henriques of his impending baggy green on Tuesday night, with a message to keep up his attacking method.
"I'm a fairly aggressive batsman by nature and Mickey just said if you want to do something out there in the middle just back your strengths," Henriques said. "If you want to do it, go for it and you won't be told you've done the wrong thing back here in the sheds, as long as it's your strengths. Play to what you're good at. If it doesn't come off, it doesn't come off, but we want you playing fearless cricket rather than going out and playing the way you haven't played before.
"It's a good boost of confidence to know you can go out there with your own twist on things. You don't want to be bogged down for too long against these spinners with those attacking fields, it's almost an accident waiting to happen. At some stage you do have to try to put the pressure back on the opposition bowlers. I felt like the night before [against India A] they built that pressure up. I think I faced something like 15 dots without scoring. I thought I would try to make a bit of an impression first thing in the morning."
It's not the first time this summer Henriques has made an impression. Six years after he made his first-class debut as a teenager who had starred as Australia's captain at the Under-19 World Cup, Henriques finally scored his maiden first-class century, an unbeaten 161 against Tasmania in Sydney in September. By the time he was called into the Test squad for this tour, Henriques had managed 385 runs at an average of 77 and 14 wickets at the average of 18 this Shield season.
It was a case of perfect timing, for Shane Watson's decision to avoid bowling on this tour in an effort to prevent further injuries left the Australians in need of an allrounder to balance the side. Andrew McDonald might have been the first picked had he not been sidelined by a serious hamstring injury, and Mitchell Marsh was also out injured at the time, although he came back strongly with a Ryobi Cup hundred this week.
That meant Henriques was the man, and he will have Watson to turn to for advice in the lead-up to his first Test. Like Watson, Henriques has suffered numerous injury setbacks over the course of his career - he tore his side twice last season, had both groin muscles operated on the previous summer, and has also suffered hamstring troubles - but this season he has stayed fit.
"There's been a lot of injuries and in amongst those injuries there has been some inconsistent form as well," Henriques said. "The one thing you lose first is your match touch and some little one per cent things when you don't play consistently. Being able to stay on the park for the last six months has really helped my performances and helped some consistency come into my game.
"Shane Watson is someone who has gone through some similar sort of injury woes early on in his career, in similar parts of the body. He has had some hamstring problems as I did, and a lot of similar injuries as well. And we're both a similar sort of weight and size. Someone like that is someone who, I wouldn't say I've modelled myself on, but I have looked up to in terms of rehabilitation, preparation and recovery."
Watson, who will bat at No.4 in Chennai, said he was happy to mentor Henriques, his New South Wales team-mate. Watson said he had been impressed by the length Henriques targeted in the tour matches, and said he could play a big part with the ball throughout the series.
"I can certainly help him in a number of different ways," Watson said. "I can see an amazing amount of similarities between how Mo plays the game and how his career has evolved over the last six or seven years as well. The way he bowls is quite similar to the way I bowl. His length throughout the first tour games was outstanding. He looked as good as any bowler we had, because he knew the length to bowl.
"His batting has improved a massive amount and he's had quite a bit of success this summer. Playing in the last tour match, he certainly has the techinque and game to have success over here. It's really exciting. It's great to see a younger guy coming through who has similar traits to how I play and I'm going to help out in any way I can."
Henriques will have to use his team-mates as his support network in preparation for his debut, for his late inclusion meant it was too late for his family to fly over to watch him play. His parents Alvaro and Anabela, both from Portugal, moved to Australia when Portuguese-born Moises was one and a half, and he said his father had embraced the sport.
"My dad is all of a sudden a professional on cricket," he said. "Mum just likes it because I like it. But Dad is always trying to give me advice."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here