Australia’s coach Justin Langer will devote himself to efforts to mentally and physically refresh his team for the second of back-to-back Tests, on a fiery Perth Stadium pitch that looms as the hosts’ best chance to catch up to India, before the series turns to the more docile surfaces expected in Melbourne and Sydney.
While the BCCI were successful in lobbying to have the first Test of the series played in Adelaide in daylight, the pace, bounce and movement likely to be offered in Perth, due to years of work to try to replicate the former qualities of the WACA pitch with drop-in technology, will likely make the second Test far more of a fire and brimstone affair than the slow burn and tense finish that enthralled spectators and television viewers in Adelaide.
For Langer, the principle concern is to ensure that Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins are able to back up and improve upon their displays in the first Test. Starc in particular has some improving to do, but the pace trio remains Australia’s best hope of regaining parity and then forging on to victory in a series where the batting has been enormously weakened by the bans on Steven Smith and David Warner. While Mitchell Marsh and Peter Siddle remain part of the squad, Langer indicated that conditions would be more likely to change than the team’s composition, even when factoring a forecast 36C temperature on Friday’s first day.
“On the one hand the youth helps us because they’ll have the physical energy, but it’s mentally very taxing playing Test cricket,” Langer said when asked about how to refresh his troops. “I said that to Marcus Harris this morning, ‘mate when you play 100 Test matches, Test cricket’s really tiring’. It’s something we’re aware of, we’ll work it out over the next few days, training will probably look a lot different at this time of the year than perhaps we’ve seen in the past.
“They [the pacemen] have had a couple days off, would’ve had three or four days off, India are in exactly the same situation. It’s probably the one area where we just felt we’re not wearing down the India bowlers enough this Test match. It’s going to be hot on Friday, it’ll be an important toss I would imagine, and there’s always working out that balance, but hopefully on a wicket conducive to a bit of swing and seam, the bowlers will get the job done.”
Local expectations for the pitch are that it will produce a fast-moving match, likely to finish early on day five if it gets there at all. “There’s been one four-day game in its history there. I went and watched a bit of the game, New South Wales versus WA,” Langer said. “Certainly there was some pace and bounce. We’ve seen some pace and bounce in it during the one-dayers and T20 game and a fast outfield.
“Again it’s an unprecedented period – the first Test match on a drop-in wicket in Perth at the new stadium. Time will tell what the wicket brings. Hopefully that’s what it is traditionally at the WACA, that’s what we’ve talked about for a long time, pace and bounce. If we can get that, it’d be a great thing for Test cricket.”
Reflecting on the opening match of the series, in which Australia claimed four quick India wickets on the first morning before being gradually worn down by Cheteshwar Pujara and a disciplined and varied India bowling attack, Langer said that its winding pathway largely met his expectations, even when Nathan Lyon and Hazlewood got to within 32 runs of victory.
ALSO READ: Paine adamant about finger, less sure on DRS
“I was pretty relaxed, I’ve seen a lot of cricket. The game probably played out as I expected,” Langer said. “I knew that it’d get easier to bat on this drop-in wicket in Adelaide. Unfortunately we were losing wickets at crucial moments. We probably missed a trick there.
“If we’d have been two or three down overnight it might’ve been a different ball game, it wasn’t the case. India outplayed us, there’s no doubt about that, there was no point in the game where I felt we were on top of India, to their great credit they were more patient than us, they bowled really well. We got close, which shows great fighting spirit. Two out of the last three Tests the team’s shown great fighting spirit to draw in Dubai and we just lost yesterday. We’re getting closer with this young team.”
During the game Langer defended his team’s approach with the bat after criticism for being too defensive and again said it was dictated by conditions. “The wicket was really tough to score on. If you look at India, Virat Kohli got 30 in 120 balls or something, that’s telling you something. There was no plan to bat slowly, just how the game went. India bowled well, we bowled equally as well in the first innings and it was hard to bat on with the slow outfield.”
Plenty of questions have surrounded the state of the captain Tim Paine’s troubled right index finger, which required treatment and extra strapping on the fifth morning after a blow on the gloves from Mohammed Shami. Paine had offered only a terse “I’m fine” after the match, and Langer maintained the brave face. “Painey is the toughest pretty boy I’ve ever met in my life,” he said. “Even if it was snapped in about four places he’d still be right. He’s absolutely fine. He’s obviously had issues with it before but he is 100% ready to go.”