Spin lessons, leadership test underline Australia A's India visit

Cricket


If there is one thing the Andhra Cricket Association can’t be accused of, it’s lack of enthusiasm. Even as torrential rain ensured the grounds in Vijayawada for the Quadrangular series was unfit, forcing the organisers to call off the opening-day double-header on Friday, they quickly swung into action to have their indoor facility up and running within minutes to facilitate South Africa A’s training.

Australia A, the other overseas side that features in the competition along with two India squads made up of fringe players, arrived on Tuesday, and will be heading directly into the series without a single training session under humid weather, made even more oppressive by the rains. However, the players have spent two weeks at Cricket Australia’s High Performance Center in Brisbane under Graeme Hick, the head coach, and Ryan Harris, the bowling coach, and preparing for turners, you can sense, has been right on top of their to-do charts.

Australia have had a tough few months in the aftermath of the Cape Town ball-tampering fiasco. The ODI whitewash in England was followed by a T20I tri-series finals loss to Pakistan in Harare. In October, they are set to play Pakistan in the UAE. It is against this backdrop that their tour to India assumes much significance.

Over the next three weeks, they will have the inputs from a familiar face in Sridharan Sriram, the former India batsman, who is now a recognised face in the Australia dressing room, having had a number of stints with both the senior and A teams as spin consultant.

Travis Head, among their better performers with three half-centuries in England, has been handed leadership of the one-day squad, while Mitchell Marsh will take over the controls for the two unofficial Tests. Head has spent two IPL seasons in India, a factor he hopes will help him acclimatise faster.

While game time wasn’t easy at Royal Challengers Bangalore, the experience of having played on two-paced surfaces in 2017 coupled with the learnings from watching two modern-day stalwarts – Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers – from the outside is what Head hopes to carry forward in his bid to earn a Test call-up, even as his 50-over ambitions aren’t misplaced.

India’s head coach Rahul Dravid has often underlined how the A tours aren’t about results. However, that isn’t how Head or Australia are approaching the tour. “We’re here to win, we always want to have success,” Head stated. “It’s more enjoyable winning games of cricket. The more we can win games and contribute the better. Definitely, on the other side, we have to make sure we are learning and getting better. If we continue to do that, we will win games of cricket. We need to find that balance between the two, hopefully we can.”

Captaincy aside, at a personal level, Head is aware of the need to adapt quickly. Even as David Warner and Steven Smith grapple with form in T20 Leagues, it’s most likely the two will slot back into the top order once their suspension ends. Add Aaron Finch into the mix and Australia’s top order becomes formidable again. Head too has had success as an opener, but if it comes down to a tussle for spots, it’s more than likely he will have to move down the order, a prospect he’s “totally okay with.”

“I’ve played a lot of cricket in different roles. Right now, I’m opening and I enjoy it, but anywhere I can get a position in the team, I will be fighting for it,” he said. Having chats with Hick, who he termed a “great influence in the squad” has helped massively. After all, the influence and experience stems from an 25-year career in which the former England batsman played 526 first-class matches, scoring 136 centuries at an average of 52.23.The Zimbabwe-born batsman also made 41,112 first-class runs and 22,059 runs in 50-over cricket.

The The underlying sense that seems to have been ingrained is: it’s not where you bat, but how you adapt to different roles that matter. “He’s spent a lot of time with the Australian cricket team as well, so he is a great link between what we are trying to do at the top to all the way to state cricket,” Head said. “It’s no different for an A tour, we want to replicate as much as what happens with the national team.

“The influence on our batting – he’s had an unbelievable record, he’s played a lot of cricket and we’re trying to tap into that as much as possible. He knows how to get big runs, that’s one thing personally I’m trying to learn: how to develop an innings, get big scores. He’s a fantastic person to talk to and even watch a game with.”

While Head prepares to learn from Hick, Alex Carey has been quietly observing his captain and state senior. Named deputy for both formats, Carey, who was an understudy to Tim Paine in England, has been earmarked as an all-formats keeper. Like his team-mates, Carey too has goals of being a better player of spin, having chatted with Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb and Matt Renshaw – all on the current tour and with past experiences of India, but is also keen to pick up leadership quirks.

“Heady’s very relaxed, so I think he’ll be really good in this environment,” he said. “He’s obviously captained quite a number of games at first-class and Big Bash level, so he’s really experienced. I’m looking forward to working under Heady.

“Standing behind the stumps, I get to see what’s going on in the middle so it’s just to be that second voice for him. And just keep developing my game, keep developing, keep watching, keep talking to the senior guys we have got, and build the knowledge.”



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