India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai, 4th day February 25, 2013

Australia must overcome fear factor

Moises Henriques has shown his team-mates that to handle the challenging conditions on this tour they need to be alert, but not alarmed

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 26, 2013, 9:44 GMT

    Something to think about for both sides: England didn't look too clever at the start of their India test series, but they adapted well and ended up thrashing India at home. England's batsmen (KP and Bell particularly) were terrible in the first test, and in my opinion both were so culpable that they were lucky to stay in the team, but they learned and adapted their games. The selectors learned a valuable lesson re selection of bowlers and bought Monty in. Australia supporters keep claiming that the their team is on its way back to the top, let's see if they can come back from this hiding. There's no point in crying about the pitches - adapt or die! There's no reason why the batsmen can't adapt their games, but where will the selectors find the spinners needed to counteract the preparation of spin friendly pitches? India on the other hand, really can't afford to lose another home test series if they are to be taken as seriously as they take themselves.

  • Gopinath on February 26, 2013, 8:41 GMT

    EXCELLENT PITCH..!! If Down Under can produce CHIN MUSIC, Chennai can produce SPIN MUSIC, If a fast blower can't take a wicket, is that mean a flat track!!!, I pity you. Why even the Indian comentators say the same like ENG or AUS, these are turning/Spin pitches, not flat pitches, you have to correct it, this is creating steriotypes. For England series, most of our players(bats men and bowlers) out of form, so england could able to get a different result. Kudos to MSD, what an inning he has played, he is in purple patch right now. Sachin and Koli got soffocated by Aus on 3rd day morning, the result was Sachin's wicket. Then comes the powerful unorthodox cricketer, He takes the attack back to Aus. Its complete change of the game. Aus were clueless what to do, this is the first time i have seen on their faces, they were in mercy of MSD.

  • Sriram on February 26, 2013, 7:54 GMT

    @Brydon - How many tests have you played, to say that Watto, David et all got out themselves with silly mistake rather than good bowling. You certainly have undermined and belittled quality spin bolwing rather than accepting the inept batting of Aussies. So would you write similar about Indian batting down under as just mindset issue and got out to 'not so unplayable' balls rather than good aussie fast bowling??? Wake up!!

  • Dummy4 on February 26, 2013, 7:50 GMT

    henriques should be promoted before wade and hughes should be replaced by khawaja,and siddle should be replaced by some spinner then next 2 test matches will be a treat to watch and aussies will give a good fight

  • Rahul on February 26, 2013, 7:31 GMT

    Well played. Excellent pitch. It produced runs wickets everything. Those who r saying pitch was not good don't know anything abt cricket. If pitch favors pace and swing it's a sporting wicket but if it turns like this it's not a good wicket ? I can't understand this logic. I m sure ENG would have won with a big margin on this pitch as they have 2 quality spinners and great player of spin in KP cook prior etc

  • Dummy4 on February 26, 2013, 7:13 GMT

    I think the main problem with austRAlian team is their game plan.rather than to score runs with better run rate they should try to waste the time on the pitch....If they had spent more time on the pitch in their first innings; indian team will played on 3rd and 4th day....and it would be difficult for them to take a lead of around 200 and aussies might then take lead of 100-150 runs which would be difficult to achieve on 5th day at this pitch.......and THE STORY MIGHT BE DIFFERENT ALTOGETHER!!

  • Dummy4 on February 26, 2013, 7:10 GMT

    I think the main problem with austRAlian team is their game plan.rather than to score runs with better run rate they should try to waste the time on the pitch....If they had spent more time on the pitch in their first innings; indian team will played on 3rd and 4th day....and it would be difficult for them to take a lead of around 200 and aussies might then take lead of 100-150 runs which would be difficult to achieve on 5th day at this pitch.......and THE STORY MIGHT BE DIFFERENT ALTOGETHER!!

  • HNL on February 26, 2013, 6:58 GMT

    I think the Aussies have given a very good fight in this test match, considering their team has mostly players with hardly any exposure to such conditions. Take out MS Dhoni's monumental effort, and anybody can see that this match could have been tantalizingly close and very difficult to predict a winner.

  • VENKATACHALAM on February 26, 2013, 6:26 GMT

    Easy to say how to bat but mighty difficult to do in the middle, especially if u are inexperienced in these conditions. This is where the coach and the senior players like Clarke will have a major job to do with the top order batters before the H'bad Test.

  • narsimha on February 26, 2013, 5:57 GMT

    OZWALLY-On similar lines if we take that lucky& chancy century from CLARK what would have been u r score card ,no place for ifs& buts in cricket , the pitch is not that bad as u people want to prove other wise both IND& AUS last wicket pairs would not have lasted for one over.

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