India v Australia, 3rd Test, Mohali March 13, 2013

Shaken Australia face Test reality

Australia will have to put behind the less-than-ideal lead-up to the Mohali Test to bounce back from their Hyderabad defeat

A strange thing happened at the Mohali cricket ground on Wednesday. An Indian player gave a press conference. Over the past three days it has felt like there has been only one team in town. On Monday, David Warner, Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke all spoke to the media: Arthur and Clarke on the suspension of four players for a disciplinary breach, Warner on other issues. Shane Watson was bailed up by journalists as he checked out of the team hotel.

On Tuesday, James Pattinson fronted up to speak of his contrition at forgetting his homework. Back in Australia, Pat Howard explained Cricket Australia's support of the team management's drastic move in Mohali, and in doing so inadvertently added fuel to the fire surrounding Watson's departure. Later that night, Watson landed in Sydney and was again mobbed by a press pack. On Wednesday, Clarke gave his official pre-match press conference.

And so did India's debutant batsman Shikhar Dhawan.

Oh, that's right. India are here too. The past three days have been so chaotic for the Australian camp that it was easy to overlook the reality of a Test match starting on Thursday. A Test match that Australia must win to have any chance of retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The challenge for Clarke and Arthur is to ensure their men are switched off from the controversy of the homework saga and switched on to their on-field jobs and how to beat India.

By their own hand, they will do so with a team lacking its vice-captain, its best bowler, another bowler who took five-for last time at this venue, and the main backup batsman, who was otherwise certain to come in for this Test. As bad luck would have it, they will also most likely be without their first-choice wicketkeeper through injury. There will be no official vice-captain to replace Shane Watson, although Brad Haddin will probably serve as a de facto deputy to Clarke.

It is, to put things mildly, less than ideal. One Indian journalist jokingly suggested that perhaps the batting coach Michael di Venuto could be called in to the side. After all, 25,000 first-class runs is a pretty good qualification for a baggy green, and he only retired last year.

Before the squad left for India it was clear this tour would be Clarke's biggest challenge as captain. This Mohali Test will unquestionably be his toughest task of the trip. Apart from the self-imposed stripping of personnel, the team needs to find a way to bounce back from its tenth-biggest loss in Test history. This is a squad that has been slipshod on and off the field and has had its failings aired publicly, yet Clarke must refocus his men away from all of the off-field issues.

But this match does provide an opportunity. When the touring squad was chosen, Steven Smith appeared about as likely to play a Test as Mickey Arthur. Now he has a chance to show what he has learnt since his last Test incarnation two years ago. Phillip Hughes was almost certain to be axed but now will get a reprieve. Xavier Doherty and Nathan Lyon will probably be tested in tandem. Mitchell Starc is back. Clarke has carried a hefty burden since Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey retired. It will be fascinating to see how Clarke rallies his men here.

"The reality is it's a different team now in regards to experience," Clarke said. "When you lose so many experienced players it takes time to build that up. With Ricky's retirement and Michael Hussey's retirement, more than anything I think those two players as friends of mine led by example. We had those guys to talk to a player, to show the younger players how to train, how to go about their work. They were great players for a number of reasons and not just about their performance."

Clarke has made a point of telling his men that they don't need a 'c' or 'v-c' next to their name to be a leader in this young and inexperienced group. The next five days in Mohali provide a chance for some of the same players from the Hyderabad thrashing and some new ones to show what they are made of. To see if the off-field issues have pulled them closer together or driven them apart. The signs at training have been good. The vibe has been upbeat.

Of course, the likely outcome is short-term pain for what Clarke and Arthur hope will be long-term gain. But after Hyderabad, losing by less than an innings would be a step up. A draw would feel like a win. A win would make this one of the most remarkable weeks in Australia's Test history. Now to see what those Indians have been up to while all of this was happening.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • stuart on March 14, 2013, 22:37 GMT

    Bring back shane watson. He brings so much to the team and gives the rest of the world a great laugh at his seemingly deep well of talent.

  • Ramalinga on March 14, 2013, 19:17 GMT

    Time for prep classes and homework is done with,when introvert thoughts result in an implosion, needing instead an extrovert approach in a team above par talent explosion. it's now time for field and slog work to get the Aussie team moving ahead. Time the Oz's must stop psyching themselves in their closed minds within doors, and face up to the open field as any professional playing XI must. Time comes wherein such relent unleash their natural cricketing skill and abilities. It's the only cure to the unease that has caught the team both on & off the field in an unnecessary fit of nerves. It's time when Chandigarh will see an Australian comeback. I feel the now 4 days game of the 3rd test , will place them well for a win. Bat and bowl well and fast is the need, as the extra 90 overs lost on day1 could well come to an Australian benefit, as this extra time unnecessarily feeling the pressure in their undue defence, is unneeded, it's an Australian comeback in the 3rd Test.

  • Ashok on March 14, 2013, 17:51 GMT

    I would rather see either Shane Warne or Adam Gilchrist being the coach of this team in place of Arthur. Their approach would be tough but more "hands on". They would work with the players in helping to work their problems out. The Arthur way is like that of a school Teacher. Give these Kids some homework & let us see them do their homework!. This approach never works with adults. Mr. Arthur.If you treat them like Kids, they will behave like Kids. Better way is to impose a financial penalty which really hurts their pockets, assuming that the 4 suspended guys breached a code of conduct. Follow this up with private sessions with each & explain the big picture impact. Let them prove they have overcome the deficiency by monitoring their performance in the following match. If they have not, impose another financial penalty & repeat the process.This is more practical way.All 4 suspended players are crucial in the next series too. Demoralizing your stars who make up the XI is a poor approach!

  • Robo on March 14, 2013, 17:29 GMT

    Crickets is really dieing in Australia look at there domestic matches lot of all outs in 100s. Best batsman is still guys like Ricky Ponting. Aussies need another 5 years to come back and play a good test match in India. I know lot of people will not agree with me because India lost 4-0 to Aussies couple of months before. But that is because India played really really bad in Australia.

  • Lewis on March 14, 2013, 12:51 GMT

    @hyclass completely agree with your comments mate. Both Pattinson and Khawaja should be playing this test, but this will test our depth. No skinfold tests, not wellness tests, not regimented training regimes. These sound like gimmicks designed to justify the existence of those on the periphery.You can't make the human part of the technology. Tthese things are a tool. But only a tool. As the old saying goes, you can lead a camel to water

  • Dummy4 on March 14, 2013, 12:08 GMT

    Everybody is forgetting Australia actually started the series pretty well. 380 in the first innings at Chennai and had India 100-3. It was the Tendulkar Kohli partnership that swayed the game towards India and Dhoni's blitz that took it away completely. They just need one of the top 6 other than Michael Clarke to bat for a long period of time, put up a good first innings score and put pressure on India. The pitch at Chennai was probably as home team friendly as they are going to get this series. Australia batted poorly in both innings in Hyderabad, they just have to put that behind them.

  • Harcourt on March 14, 2013, 8:56 GMT

    I have been watching and listening to this kerfuffle explode way out of proportion. I think they did the right thing, and other codes have shown how strict discipline is the cornerstone to a committed playing group. Followers of Rugby League well know how dissenters are dealt with. Prior to the first round Nathan Merritt of the Rabbitohs (a tradesman like team, punching above its weight) nodded off watching telly and ended up 5 min late for training, he was punished with instant demotion to the NSW cup and even though he is one of the top players in the team there was not a word said by the press or him. He took his punishment without question as he undestood he had let the team down. Aussie Cricketer have had it too easy by virtue of the wealth of talent in sides, this is a new dawn, and every pater will ahve to play to his upmost for us to even be competitive.

  • wayne on March 14, 2013, 8:25 GMT

    Understand what you're saying hyclass but complete disagree - cricket is a team sport. Individual performances matter of course (when don't they, in sport?), but you don't tonk the ball and then run without calling to your batting partner - or try to sprint through for three when you have Inzi at the other end. You don't just bowl the ball with no consideration for your field settings. You don't come in wherever you want in the batting lineup because team work only matters when you're fielding. That sort of comment is remarkably naive for someone who I actually think is one of the better commentors on this site. Don't disagree with your comment about what's bleeding obvious - India are a better side in India than Australia are in India. Or that it's a shame to see Pattinson and Khawaja out of this match.

  • Manoj on March 14, 2013, 7:14 GMT

    I agree with chicko1983; expect to see a more determined performance from the Aussies. My money (if I had any AND, if I was a betting man) would be on them putting on a much improved show! The pitch will be an ally, but the guys will need to put in some serious hard yakka!

    Not necessarily tipping a win, but at least a draw!

  • wayne on March 14, 2013, 7:00 GMT

    Anyone remember that episode of Ripping Yarns where the hopeless Barnstoneworth football team finally wins a match when the entire team is replaced with the retired members of their last successful team? Isn't Matthew Hayden in India right now? Just sayin'...

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