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Australia batting coach Michael di Venuto talks about the adjustments the side needs to make
March 11, 2013
This is your first tour as Australia's batting coach. Could there be a tougher introduction?
It's right up there, isn't it? Our next two tours will be as challenging as they get for Australian teams but they're exciting ones. Especially for the group that we've got - they're a pretty inexperienced bunch at Test level and even at first-class level as well. There's not a lot to fall back on as far as their own experiences. It's exciting times for a coach.
Among the batsmen only Michael Clarke and Shane Watson had played Test cricket in India before this tour. How did you prepare the other batsmen?
That's why the groups came over in stages, so we could get the guys who haven't been here before over early to play in a couple of games, to get used to conditions and try to adapt. It's completely different to what we get at home and it was important that we adapted quickly. We've seen in the first two Tests that it hasn't quite happened. There are lessons that the guys are learning that in the next tours they'll be able to fall back on. But at the moment we're in the thick of the battle and learning on our feet as a batting group. We haven't adapted quick enough as yet.
What has gone wrong?
It's a bit of everything. It's a very hard place to start your innings over here when you first go to the crease. It's vital that when we do get a partnership it's a really big one. The Indians have shown the value of big partnerships and getting the first-innings runs on the board. We've virtually failed in our first two Tests to get good first-innings scores. Chennai - it was good to get 380 from where we were, at 5 for 150, but realistically you'd want to be getting up around 450-500 in the first innings here.
Is learning to bat in India something you can really only do on the job?
Absolutely. I think a lot of batting is done on instinct. The guys have been brought up in Australia and playing in Australian conditions, where, if you see a ball on a certain length, it normally bounces a certain height. Then you come to a foreign country and all of a sudden it doesn't bounce like it does at home. You've got to go against your instincts. You've got to play with your mind and train with your mind. That's something that we haven't adapted to quick enough here. The nature of cricket is that you learn from your mistakes. But you don't just make that mistake once and that's the last time you do it - you make it over and over and over again. Eventually, through experience it sinks in. But the best seem to learn quicker than most. We've got a talented young group of batters and hopefully they can learn quickly.
Michael Clarke spoke of his disappointment that so many batsmen have been out to cross-bat shots or playing against the spin early in their innings. Is that an instinct thing as well?
Absolutely. Whether it be nerves... everything comes into it, trying to score... It's where you've got to be so patient and play to your strengths. You have to be so disciplined with your game plan, because otherwise you can get yourself in all sorts of trouble over here, like with cross-bat shots. I think the best way to learn sometimes is to watch how the opposition go about it. The Indians were brought up in these conditions and play so well here. So watch how their batsmen go about things and see what things we can take out of their game and put into our own.
Can it be quite a fine line between patience and getting bogged down?
It is. That's where your footwork is so important, to be able to get down the wicket and then get deep into your crease. At the moment with the fields the Indians are setting, there are a lot of men around the bat. When there are a lot of men around the bat it means there are a lot of holes in the outfield. If you're nice and sharp on your feet, you can get the ball in the holes.
|"The nature of cricket is that you learn from your mistakes. But you don't just make that mistake once and that's the last time you do it - you make it over and over and over again"|
We've seen when we've had a couple of partnerships, the Clarke-Henriques partnership in Chennai and Clarke and Wade in Hyderabad, batting didn't look that difficult. It's about getting two guys in and developing that partnership. What we've also seen is that as soon as that partnership is broken, the game can turn on its head pretty quickly. It can be so hard for batters coming in.
Is footwork a difficult thing to teach players when it doesn't come naturally?
It's a hard thing to teach if you're not one to use your feet down the wicket, especially when you're facing high-quality spin. But we all are good enough to get deep into our crease. That's a matter of picking up the length and making good decisions more often than not. Unfortunately we've seen through the first couple of Tests that at times our decision-making hasn't been great under pressure.
Why are so many players reluctant to come down the wicket?
It's easier to come down the wicket when the ball is coming in to you, where the second form of defence is your pads and body. It's a lot harder to go down the wicket when the ball is turning away. The good players go down the wicket either way, whichever way it's spinning. They've generally used their feet from a young age.
It's a confidence thing as well. At the moment our batting group is low on confidence. We're certainly training hard and trying to fix some flaws but until you have success, sometimes it's pretty hard to get that confidence up.
David Warner and Phillip Hughes were bowled around their legs while trying to sweep in Hyderabad. What's the secret to successful sweeping?
For the two left-handers who got out on the sweep in the last match, the lines were probably right to sweep but the length for Davey was too full and it got up underneath him. Hughesy just managed to drag one on.
If the right-arm offie is coming over the wicket you've got a pretty good idea of how he's going to get you out, and that's bowled around your legs. If you're going to sweep, make sure you get your pad in line in case you miss it. It's definitely a scoring option for players if they want to pick it off the right line. If you're sweeping off the stumps then you're giving the bowler a chance.
I don't think we've got that many natural sweepers. Matthew Hayden turned himself into an unbelievable sweeper through a lot of hard work. The English players are brought up on wickets that don't bounce, so they're brought up playing a lot of sweep shots against spinners. In Australia there's a lot more bounce. We're taught to use our feet a lot more rather than sweep and lap. The Indians don't really sweep that much and these are their home conditions. That might be a lesson learnt, just watching them.
Hughes has really struggled against the spin. What can he do to improve?
It's hard work. It's getting in the nets and working on your weaknesses. We've seen it before with a lot of players. Ricky Ponting was an example of that in 2001, when Harbhajan was all over him whenever he came to the wicket. We're certainly not the first team to come here and struggle. England in the last couple of years have struggled against spin bowling on tours away but as a group they have learnt the lessons and found a way to combat them. Their series win here a couple of months ago was an outstanding success for them. But it also came on the back of their players experiencing some bad losses and spinners being all over them.
Watson made 84 and 60 in the tour match but hasn't pushed on in the Tests. Is there anything he could be doing differently?
He looked unbelievable in the tour game and has looked terrific in his Test innings to date for starts. That's the disappointing thing. The captain needs a bit of help and people to stand up. He looks in terrific touch but the runs just haven't happened.
His first-innings dismissal [in Hyderabad] was an instinct shot. He pulls so well off length in Australia. The ball stayed down. But if he plays that with a straight bat then he's still in and you don't know where his innings could have gone. He's just got to keep working hard and has got to get better, it's as simple as that. The talent is there, the skills are there and he looks in good touch.
There weren't many positives from the second innings in Hyderabad, but were you pleased to see Ed Cowan bat for three hours in challenging circumstances? He was batting a long way out of his crease against the fast bowlers.
He gutsed it out. I've seen a lot of Ed in Tasmania. When he gets in his little bubble, he puts a high price on his wicket, which was good to see. He's finding a way to combat the spin. And for the reverse swing coming around the wicket, he was trying to negate the modes of dismissal of lbw and bowled by going at the bowler. With no slips in place you're not going to get caught behind the wicket. There was some smart batting at that time, which was frustrating the opposition, and he was working really hard. It was a shame he got out when he did.
After such a poor performance in Hyderabad, what can be done in the lead-up to the Mohali Test?
At times like this it's easy to get really withdrawn as individuals and start worrying about your own game and not [think] too much on what's going on around you, but the most important thing is to stick together and start looking after your mate. Don't get withdrawn and into yourself. Start helping out the guy next to you. If everyone is helping each other out, that's what we want to be as a cricket team. We want to stay really tight and work really hard through this.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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