Hyderabad: Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay have made as much of an impact on the Australian psyche as India's spinners have, that much has been obvious over the last two days.
On Tuesday (March 5), after India wrapped up the second Test by an innings and 135 runs to establish a 2-0 lead in the series, Michael Clarke highlighted the intelligence and discipline showed by the two right-hand batsmen in the opening session of day two, when they added just 49 runs, before running away with it during their 370-run partnership.
Mickey Arthur, the Australia coach, echoed Clarke's sentiments on Wednesday after an extensive centre-pitch practice session at Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Uppal. Arthur was responding to whether it was a lack of skill or a lack of patience that had been Australia's undoing this series.
"Neither," he replied. "I've asked our batsmen to learn from the way Pujara and Vijay played. The way they went about their innings was a lesson to all our batters about playing in these conditions. You know they scored 47 runs (actually 49) in session one on that day, 106 in the next session and, because they were still batting at tea, they scored 150 in the last session of the day. If you're still batting, you can get to score a lot of runs but you need to bat till tea. They were very, very good examples to our batsmen on how to go about an innings in the subcontinent."
Clarke had slammed the 'horrible' shot selection of his batsmen without going into specifics, but Arthur was happy to elaborate. "Our whole conversation around this second Test match was about playing with a vertical bat, not a horizontal bat," said Arthur. "So, when we lost two wickets to the sweep (David Warner and Phillip Hughes on the third evening), I wasn't best pleased, put it that way. Especially as our briefing that morning had been 'I hope you all noticed about how Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay went about their business'.
"Until they learn the harsh lessons of getting out and possibly losing their place because of it, they're not going to realise it. When you're batting and there's a lot of fielders around the bat, there's a massive TV audience and you can't score a run, you feel as if you can't get away. When there's no fielder there, it's very easy to think 'I'm going to play my cards here because if I get on there, I score'. I keep telling them there's a reason why there's no fielders there. They want you to hit there. You're putting yourself in danger."
Arthur also agreed that the time had come to consider changes to the batting after two terrible defeats. With Clarke moving up, potentially to No. 4, and Hughes most likely on the way out, one of Usman Khawaja or Steve Smith will come into the picture. "It is early days but if I'd be lying if I said we wouldn't contemplate changes," said Arthur. "I do think we've got to reassess. We've got two Test matches to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, which is a big thing for us. We've got to reassess conditions there, again think what is the best possible team to win. And if that means making some changes, we should."
There was a massive difference in how to approach spin on Australian and Indian pitches, Arthur said. "The ball obviously assists the spinners here, it turns, keeps low, the rough created. Like I always said, it's like North Pole and South Pole. In Australia, the game's quick, quick, quick and then it gets slower as the wicket flattens out. In India, it's slow, slow, slow and then the game goes quick on day four and five," he said. "It's total extremes and again that's the reason we've got the boys out there (at open nets) just to be aware of conditions, and just try and learn a way of coping with it."
Pitches at Mohali and New Delhi generally aren't as spin-friendly as those laid out in Chennai and Hyderabad, but Arthur justified his team batting on a fifth-day pitch in a bid to get their spin act right. "Any day we get to practice on a Test wicket, we'll take it because we need to practice a huge amount on that," said Arthur. "I've said that only (Shane) Watson and Clarke of our top batsmen have ever played here in India before. The more experience our young players can get, the better for them in their careers; practicing on a day five wicket means the more better they're going to be in their careers.
"We just want to keep improving our batsmen against spin. You know when India comes to Australia we take them to the WACA and India get to bat there. It's exactly the same for us here. Our players are still young, they're still learning. For them to get out there and practice on a day five wicket … you don't buy that kind of experience."
Watson has received some stick from the Australian media for his poor Test run – his last century came in Mohali in 2010 – and the lack of runs has coincided with him being unable to bowl. Arthur was asked if the pressure was beginning to tell on the vice-captain. "It becomes a balance for him now. He's put all his eggs in one basket," replied Arthur. "When he was bowling, he was our No. 1 allrounder. He's now one of six batsmen and with that comes the same responsibility, scoring runs to keep his position. He knows that, he's very aware of that. I think he's played well on this tour so far without excelling and we're all waiting for a big innings from him at some stage. Nobody knows that more than Shane."
Welcoming the break ahead of the third Test in Mohali from March 14, Arthur said, "We've been playing a lot of cricket. We've come out of two Test matches. We thought a couple of days of mental freshness for the guys can be more valuable. And I still believe that. We'll travel tomorrow, take two days off and start training again on Sunday. I think those two days off will give the guys a lot to reflect. It gives all of us a chance to think how we're going to retain this trophy and it means that when we get back to play on Sunday, we come back fresh and ready to go. I think that's the most important for us right now."