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Australia focus on facing swing at batting camp

Dale Steyn pumps his fist as Michael Hussey departs Getty Images

Batting camp: batsmen sitting around a bonfire telling stories of bowlers they've faced, hundreds they've made, bonding, pledging their allegiance to the group ethos. Not quite. The reality is that Australia's batsmen have simply spent a few extra days in the nets, although there has been a back-to-school element as they returned to the basics of how to handle swing bowling, specifically the angles of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma.

As a former teacher, Michael Hussey probably enjoyed the sessions more than anyone. This is a man who, years ago, decided he needed six hours of practice a day and duly took his batting coach Ian Kevan to the nets one weekend. He trained in the nets with time out for lunch and tea. During one of the breaks, Kevan fell asleep, exhausted. Hussey went for a run.

The tune-up at the MCG over the past few days might be just what he needed. Hussey, 36, is in a strange position, bracketed together with Ricky Ponting as the two old, out-of-form men of the middle order, playing for their positions. And it is true that Hussey has made fewer runs in his past two series, against South Africa and New Zealand, than in any of the other 20 Test series in which he has played.

But his previous two series, last summer's Ashes and the tour of Sri Lanka, were the most productive of his Test career. He was Man of the Match in all three Tests in Sri Lanka. It is a turn of events that Hussey himself cannot explain, other than to put the sudden slump down to difficult pitches and a lack of good fortune.

"I feel like I'm in a good place mentally," Hussey said. "I feel like I'm batting well in the nets. Sometimes you just need a little bit of luck early in your innings and you can go on and get a big score. I'm hoping to get a little bit of luck early in the innings and I can go on and get a good start to the series.

"We had some tough conditions for batting in South Africa, so you needed a little bit of luck to get through there. The first couple of pitches out here in Australia [against New Zealand], it's been hard work for the batters as well. I haven't been able to get through that initial period.

"That's definitely been the focus for me, to work hard early in my innings and my training has been all about being really tight and tough early in my net sessions. If you can just get through that initial period it gets easier after that."

At No.6, Hussey should at least be coming in when the ball has stopped swinging, but Australia's top-order struggles have meant that hasn't always been the case in recent times. Against India, left-arm pace has been a problem for Hussey in the past, with RP Singh dismissing him four times from four Tests, and Zaheer three times.

Part of the curriculum at batting camp was to replicate as closely as possible the lines of Zaheer and Ishant, the two key men in India's attack. Zaheer has an especially strong record against left-hand batsmen - 10 of the 14 batsmen he has dismissed most in Test cricket are lefties - and Australia have four of them in their top six, including Hussey.

"We did focus a little bit on [Zaheer] in the batting camp," he said. "We had the bowling machines cranked up and Justin Langer was getting the ball to swing around a lot. We did a little bit of work there. I think in our previous tours the bowlers have had two-piece balls, so they can swing a little bit more as well.

"We have faced Zaheer in the past. We've watched a lot of footage on him as well, seeing what he likes to do and which way he likes to swing. He's a class bowler and a very good exponent of bowling with the new ball, and probably more particularly with the old ball."

The Australians will also face a challenge from India's two spinners, R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, and Hussey said he expected the slow men to do plenty of work for India.

"We haven't seen a lot of Ashwin," he said. "I've been lucky enough to play with him at Chennai Super Kings, so I've seen a little bit of him. Certainly it's going to take our batsmen a little bit of time to get to know his variations and his subtleties. I'm confident that our guys will play their spinners very well."