Australia must overcome fear factor
In the lead-up to his Test debut, Moises Henriques was told by the coach Mickey Arthur to play fearless cricket. It would be hard to find a better word to describe the way Henriques has approached his batting task in Chennai. Unfortunately for Australia, fear appears to have afflicted the rest of the batsmen, Michael Clarke aside. Fear of a grubber. Fear of a spitter. Fear of a ripping offbreak. Fear of a doosra. They could have been facing Joel Garner unhelmeted and looked less apprehensive.
It is a problem they will need to address quickly. Henriques and Nathan Lyon have forced the match into a fifth day but only a miracle can prevent India taking a 1-0 series lead. The second Test is in Hyderabad, where six months ago R Ashwin took 12 wickets and Pragyan Ojha six in India's innings demolition of New Zealand. If Australia's batsmen remain as nervous against spin in Hyderabad as they have been in Chennai, they might find themselves down 2-0 before they know it.
As Henriques showed in the first innings and again in the second, fearless batting does not mean all-out attack, unless perhaps your name is MS Dhoni. For the Australians, it should mean telling themselves that this is just another pitch, India are just another attack. The surface is a challenge but not an insurmountable one; Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the Indian No.10, batted for nearly three hours on it and by stumps on day four, the Henriques-Lyon partnership had lasted 62 minutes.
The basic tenets of batting do not change with the conditions. What is different is the list of things a batsman can do safely, the range of shots that do not jeopardise his wicket. But whether it's a green seamer or a dead drop-in, a quick and bouncy surface or a dry and dusty track, the idea is the same. Keep the good balls out and put away the bad ones. Concentrate, put a high price on your wicket, but don't get bogged down.
Of course, that is easy to say from the sidelines. The line between timidity and hubris can be difficult to find. In that middle ground a batsman displays patience and self-confidence, but also respect for the bowlers. Too many of the Australians lacked the self-confidence part of the equation in Chennai. In the second innings, Clarke was typically assured but he was the only one of Australia's top six to score at a strike-rate of more than 40; by comparison, five of India's top six scored at 50-plus.
The Australians told themselves they were batting on a minefield and made it so. It can't have helped them to see India open with spin from both ends. In Test cricket that is an extreme move and it told Australia this was an extreme pitch and they had better watch out. Psychologically it was clever of Dhoni. It got in their heads and they began to think of survival more than scoring. They soon forgot that this was a pitch on which Dhoni had just made 224.
Apart from Clarke, who was lbw to a ripping offbreak that pitched in the rough and stayed at ankle height, and Hughes, who edged a ball that spat and bounced high off a good length, nobody else could blame the crumbling surface for their dismissals. Ed Cowan was lbw to a ball that pitched on middle and straightened. So was David Warner. Shane Watson, who was just starting to show some intent, was done by Ashwin's drift and dip. Matthew Wade tried to sweep a ball that was too straight. All fell to errors of judgment, not unplayable balls.
Understandably, the deliveries that stayed low or zipped and bounced had contributed to their clouded minds. After play, Ravindra Jadeja said that the difference between the Australians and the England batsmen India played late last year was that the English were more patient. The Australian ego, he said, would not stand for too many maidens. In fact, this time the opposite was true. Wade fell because he was trying to force the scoring rate, but the rest of the specialists did not.
Henriques showed them that there is a middle ground to occupy, if only they can find it. By stumps he had 75 from 124 balls and had jumped on enough bad ones to strike six fours and two sixes. Generally, they were well judged. Between balls there was a look of complete calmness on his face that had been absent from his team-mates. He had played in the same way in the first innings and after four days had aggregated 143 runs in his first Test, the most any Australian had accumulated on debut since Clarke in Bangalore in 2004.
Henriques' concentration has been his great strength. That was demonstrated by his 60th and 61st deliveries in the second innings. The 60th was too short from Ashwin and Henriques dispatched it for four with a confident pull. It was his first boundary and the moment could have gone to his head. The next ball was a straight skidder that could so easily have bowled him, but Henriques watched it closely and kept it out. Respect the good balls, punish the bad ones.
"It's that type of wicket where you almost have to concentrate as if every ball is your first one," Henriques said after stumps. "You have to stay sharp and make sure you're alert for that one that does act a little differently."
Alert, but not alarmed.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here