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February 26, 2013
After India wrapped up their eight-wicket victory on the fifth morning in Chennai, Australia had a makeshift net set up around the dusty, crumbling pitch. Craters had developed behind the creases at both ends, where the batsmen's spikes had worn away at the dry surface. The unaffected midsection of the pitch had shrunk every day. To the Australia batsmen it might as well have been the surface of Mars as of the MA Chidambaram Stadium. At least the Martians aren't renowned for their spin bowling.
But Australia's batsmen know that over the next four weeks, the only way they will be able to fight back in the series, and hold on to the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, is if they find a way to thrive in the challenging conditions. The next Test starts on Saturday in Hyderabad and during the Chennai Test the former batsman-turned commentator VVS Laxman, a Hyderabad local, described the pitch for the second Test as hard and firm, but likely to crumble. Sound familiar?
So it was an encouraging sign for Australia that David Warner took the chance for some extra practice after the loss. He had faced 154 deliveries in the Test but did not appear at ease, and further work on the Test pitch cannot have hurt his preparation for Hyderabad. For the best part of an hour he faced spinners including Glenn Maxwell, Steven Smith and even his opponent Harbhajan Singh in the hastily-arranged net session in the middle of the ground.
As was seen during the match, the odd ball spat and others stayed low. But enough other deliveries were there to be hit, which some of the Australia batsmen struggled to do, especially during the second innings. The conditions were challenging but far from impossible to handle, as MS Dhoni showed during his double-century. If Australia are to bounce back, batsmen like Warner cannot get bogged down.
"I've always made very clear to the players I want them to back their own ability and play how they see fit," Australia captain Michael Clarke said after the eight-wicket loss. "It might have been quite tough for them to play the way they would have liked to play so credit has to go to the Indian bowlers. But the players know they have the freedom to play their way, play with intent and back your own ability.
"The wicket played better than it looked. Both first innings the wicket was pretty good for batting, in the second innings as we thought the wicket did deteriorate and spun and bounced a lot more, and the bounce was inconsistent. I like to see a result in Test cricket. The fact that the game went five days says to me it's a pretty good Test match wicket."
As does the fact that three players, Clarke included, scored centuries over the course of the match. Even on the final morning, the debutant Moises Henriques had triple figures in his sights when he lost his last partner. But too many of the top-order batsmen fell into the trap, which Clarke spoke of before the match, of getting starts and failing to turn them into big scores.
Ed Cowan made 29 in the first innings and 32 in the second, Shane Watson scored 28 and 17, Warner managed 59 and 23, Matthew Wade made 12 and 8 and Phillip Hughes was the only one who failed to reach double figures in either innings. With the exception of Watson, all were playing Test cricket in India for the first time, and Clarke said he was confident they would have taken plenty from the experience.
"It's about learning in the conditions. You've got to play your way," Clarke said. "You've got to have your own plan. I'm sure they'll work that out. Ed played pretty well. He didn't make a big score but he played pretty well in both innings and he's looking like he's improving a lot against spin bowling. Hughesy couldn't have done much in the second innings. That ball bounced and spun so there's not much he could have done there."
Hughes did fall to a tricky ball that bounced sharply in the second innings and it was unfortunate because more than any other player in the side, he needs time in the middle. In the warm-up game against India A, Hughes scored 1 and 19, and in the Test he didn't survive more than 15 balls in either innings. The team travels to Hyderabad on Wednesday afternoon and will have two days to train in the lead-up to the second Test.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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