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Australia get ready for India on Sydney's specially prepared spinning pitches

Head coach McDonald explains how his batters are hoping to deal with the threat of Ashwin and Jadeja

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
29-Jan-2023
Andrew McDonald gives throwdowns, SCG, February 10, 2022

Andrew McDonald has been at the helm of an intense Australia training camp ahead of the India tour  •  AFP

Australia hope that specially prepared pitches at home will help them achieve one of the biggest overseas challenges: winning a Test series in India which they have not done since 2004.
The squad has traded off a longer build-up on the ground in India - and there won't be a warm-up match - in favour of a short pre-series camp where the North Sydney Oval curator Kieran Meurant served up the type of surface the head coach Andrew McDonald was hoping for during two days of intense training for those not involved in the BBL.
One pitch on the Bon Andrews Oval, adjacent to the main North Sydney Oval, was scarified and scuffed up, alongside having some significant cracks, to try and replicate what is expected to be on offer in India - although nothing can be certain until each Test begins - with SG balls also being used.
Australia will arrive in Bengaluru where they will be based for five days before heading to Nagpur for the first Test on February 9, and they have been told that the practice wickets will be close enough to the Test pitches to provide value, but one of the reasons for the short build-up is the belief that conditions they can control at home are of as much value.
"Kieran has done a fantastic job here with the groundstaff to produce exactly what we want," McDonald said. "We feel as though out there the surfaces we got are very similar to what we're going to confront in India which is very difficult to replicate, but we feel as though we've got close to that, so the ground staff have done a fantastic job.
"Often [there's] no real connection between that practice game into the first Test match. We feel as though we can control the surfaces here. [We] get a bit more control in Bangalore to replicate what we're going to come up against and then we go into Nagpur fresh and hopefully it pays dividends at the back end.
"There's been assurances given [about pitches in Bengaluru]. We'll get there and most groundstaff around the world are pretty good at allowing us to get what we want. We'll wait and see."
Australia prepared in a similar way before going to Pakistan last year with a camp in Melbourne rather than extra days on tour although this time the expectation is for pitches to provide sharper, quicker spin - closer to how the two Tests against Sri Lanka in Galle played out.
"We went through a lot of those scenarios," McDonald said. "I think the new ball is the one that creates more of that slide and when the batters do get done on the inside…we're preparing for that.
"We'll expect the spinners to bowl early against our opening batters as well with the new ball so all that is taken care of in the training environment. The key to success there is to have a clear method and that will be individually based and depending on the conditions we're confronted with."
A fit-again Ravindra Jadeja, who took eight wickets on his comeback in the Ranji Trophy last week, looms as a major threat after his Player of the Series role in the 2017 series where he claimed 25 wickets. Whether it be Jadeja or Axar Patel, visiting teams have struggled to combat India's left-arm spin in recent years.
"We've got a similar bowler in Ashton Agar who can help prepare, and also [assistant coach] Dan Vettori, a left-arm thrower," McDonald said. "We'll be trying to make sure the batters are clear on their method. It will be an individual method… they've got a really good blueprint in some of the Test matches against Sri Lanka in Galle."
While the senior batters in the squad have not been part of the camp, all the frontline spinners have been together with some very specific training for Nathan Lyon, Agar, Mitchell Swepson and the uncapped Todd Murphy. The quartet have worked on the lines, lengths and release positions, aided by the pre-ordered pitch, and have even got as detailed as discussing field settings.
Another key reason for getting the bowlers into camp was to be able to increase workloads, with those who have been involved in BBL needing to quickly adjust from four-over spells
"Starting to get into that really tactical layer [and] also physical preparation," McDonald said. "From the fact they're going to be required to bowl heavy overs and clearly you can't just shift T20 into Test match cricket.
"It's been one of the great challenges. I've heard state coaches talk about it year in year out, switching from BBL back into Shield cricket and how difficult that is. Everyone appreciates how difficult that is and hence why we are here now. There's some talk around we're going to India a bit later… but we're still preparing over here. Still feel like we've got two weeks to prepare for that first Test."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo