Andrew McDonald: Australia batters wilted under 'perceived pressure'
Some batters went away from their methods, and must find a way to "clear their minds" ahead of the next Test, Australia coach says
Australia's coach Andrew McDonald has described his side's batting collapse in Delhi as "pretty poor", but said he would not change anything about the pre-tour preparation despite Australia not playing a tour game in the lead-up to the first Test.
Australia were 85 for 2, leading by 86, on the third morning of the Test before suffering a staggering collapse to lose eight wickets for 28 in 74 balls and be bowled out for 113. India knocked off the target of 115 prior to tea on the third day to take a 2-0 series lead.
McDonald lamented that Australia's batters had wilted under perceived pressure from a position of strength in the match. "We've got to be better than that, that's the bottom line," McDonald said. "We've got to own it and we are not here to shy away from the fact that wasn't good enough.
"We felt like we had India in a really vulnerable position, it was the first time in the series we saw the fielders back and [R] Ashwin having to control the tempo. Usually it's pretty much a ring field and hard to rotate the strike and we felt like Marnus [Labuschagne] and Smudge [Steven Smith] had the game in their control at 2 for 85 looking to extend that lead.
"The rest was pretty plain to see, pretty poor.
"It's once again pressure and, in this case, more perceived pressure than anything. In the first game we were coming from a long way behind.
"It felt like at times we wanted to rush to a total. We were in a hurry to build that lead and as we know here it is attritional cricket, you can do that over time. Our methods are going to be critiqued and rightfully so. There were some people who went clearly away from the game plan that made them successful over a period of time and that's for us to own as a collective."
Andrew McDonald: 'Some went away from the method they usually use'
Much has been made of the fact that five of Australia's eight wickets fell to a combination of sweeps and reverse sweeps. Those shots are part of the batting plans for some players in Australia's squad including Usman Khawaja, Matthew Renshaw and Alex Carey, who all fell trying to execute their plans. But McDonald was more concerned about those that departed from their plans, with Smith and Pat Cummins both being dismissed playing wild sweeps when neither are regular sweepers.
"You talk about sweeping, Uz was sweeping first innings and gets applauded for it, so there is a balance," McDonald said. "Uz was outstanding sweeping and reverse-sweeping. Even Marn day two put [Ravindra] Jadeja under clear pressure with the sweep shot. We don't want to go away from that as part of that method is finding that balance and you do need an element of good fortune on surfaces like that. There are a lot of balls that spin past the outside edge and I thought the way that Travis Head applied himself and his dismissal, he easily could have played and missed or found the edge and it goes down and then you get an opportunity to build your innings. There is an element of chance off the surface.
"I'm not saying the conditions were diabolical by any stretch of the imagination. If you apply the method over a period of time, as we saw with Uz and Pete Handscomb, they did it totally differently.
"Let's not veer away from the fact we were in a strong position as well. So are we good enough? I think the answer to that is yes if we apply our best"Andrew McDonald
"Pete did it more on the vertical plane and Uz did it more on the horizontal plane with sweeps and reverse-sweeps. Everyone is going to have a different way of doing it and what we need to do is be clear on what works for the individual and it is clear that some went away from the method they usually use and you know who they are."
Australia did not play a tour game prior to the first Test in India. They instead opted for a weeklong camp in Bengaluru involving nets and centre-wickets for the batters to acclimatise to both spinning conditions in India and red-ball cricket after the entire batting group was playing T20 cricket in the BBL for three weeks prior to their departure to India.
But McDonald said he would not change the preparation despite Australia folding for 177, 91, 263 and 113 across the four innings of the tour so far.
"I still wouldn't have changed what we did leading in, there's no doubt about that," he said. "I think they had really good preparation in Bangalore. So there's not any excuses. I think at the end of day two, if you said our preparation was good, you'd probably have a different slant on it. But within an hour then people start to critique what happened in the past.
"I think at that point in time that the preparation was really good and the way we're going about our work was good. I don't think that had a great bearing on what happened in that hour.
"We were prepared for that and day three as well as we could have been, and we failed under the examination of India."
The challenge for McDonald and his coaching staff now is how do they turn things around ahead of the third Test in Indore to avoid Australia's batters going in with a clouded mindset.
"Does every ball have someone's name on it? No, I don't think so," McDonald said. "There's parts of the wicket that are very bearable for batting and we saw that.
"I'm not sure how we clear their minds at this stage. The best way to clear the minds is to get away from the game for a couple of days for those who have been fully invested in those two Test matches. Other players will have different programmes and then we come back together again and build toward the next Test match.
"Let's not veer away from the fact we were in a strong position as well. So are we good enough? I think the answer to that is yes if we apply our best. Unfortunately for one hour of the game we were not at our best and you can lose it that quickly over here."
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo