A firm handshake from the banned batsman Cameron Bancroft was the extent of the Australian captain Tim Paine’s activity at training on Tuesday, but rather more was undertaken by Mitchell Starc as the only member of the “big three”, with Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, to bowl.
While Paine, the coach Justin Langer and the bowling coach David Saker have all sung his praises, the sight of Starc bowling apart from Hazlewood and Cummins was the strongest sign yet that his form and function need significant improvement to reach the desired level in the second Test.
Recorded by two cameras, one fixed in the umpire’s spot and another hovering in a drone overhead, Starc bowled for an extended period in the centre of the WACA Ground alongside Peter Siddle and Mitchell Marsh. “Yeah quick, he bowled pretty well,” the opener Marcus Harris said. “There was obviously a bit of talk about him after the game but I thought he bowled pretty well during the game and he’s felt like he was in good rhythm out there before. I’m sure he’s ready and raring to go for Friday.”
Starc will need to put on a dominant display for Australia in helpful conditions during the second Test against India in Perth or risk being forced out of the side due to a lengthening trend away from his best, the former selector Mark Waugh has said. Since a five-wicket haul against South Africa in Durban in March, he has claimed a mere 12 further expensive wickets in six Tests.
“He hasn’t bowled at his best probably the last 12 months,” Waugh told Sky Sports Radio. “He’s just been a little bit off with his consistency and line and length. But he’s that sort of bowler who’s a bit of an enigma. He bowls some bad balls and then he’ll bowl you a cracking delivery. I’d just love to see him a bit more consistent with the new ball.”
Perth’s really going to suit him. He’s going to bowl quick there and get a lot of bounce. If he’s probably not up to scratch in Perth I think they might think about making some changes for the rest of the series.”
Langer’s men appear aware that they must win in Perth to have any chance of taking out the series and regaining the Border-Gavaskar trophy, given that the final two Tests are in Melbourne and Sydney, which have traditionally been more favourable venues to India’s batsmen in particular.
ALSO READ: Langer hopes for fiery Perth Stadium debut
“I thought India bowled well. You saw through both innings it wasn’t an easy wicket to score on freely,” Harris said of Adelaide. “If you look at India’s scores everyone got starts, and obviously the difference was Cheteshwar Pujara. It wasn’t an easy wicket to come out and get 40 or 50 off 60 or 70 balls. Pujara was the difference in the whole game, and we didn’t have someone make 120. So if you look at that by the end of the game, what’s the difference? Thirty. Our plan was to occupy the crease, and the longer you bat things will get easier. Unfortunately we didn’t have anyone who got a big score, but it wasn’t too much of an issue for us.”
At the same time, the pace and bounce on offer at the new stadium will provide plenty of assistance to India’s disciplined and varied bowling attack. To that end, Langer was seen working assiduously alongside the Victorian batsman Peter Handscomb in the nets before his centre-wicket session, the better to equip him for a long batting stay during the Test after he squandered a pair of starts in Adelaide.
“I think we took some good confidence from the fight we showed, I think it got down to 30 runs,” Harris said. “I know when I looked at it as a batter I thought ‘Bugger, I wish I could’ve got 60 or 70’, so we got pretty close and the fight we showed hopefully we can take some momentum into the game on Friday. I think the pitch will suit us a little bit more with the conditions.
“Obviously it’s not the WACA, but from what I’ve heard from the boys who’ve played Shield games there, the wicket as quick and as bouncy. So I think it’ll suit us. We’ve played some one-day games there, some Big Bash games there. I think we’ll probably still have the advantage if there’s any. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays and how the game pans out.
“That’s taking nothing away from India, but I just think a little bit of momentum. We would’ve loved to win the game, but the boys bowled really well, the bowlers also batted really well, so it’s probably on us batters to take a bit of the weight from them.”
Paine chatted amiably and at some length with Bancroft, set to make his return from suspension for the Perth Scorchers in the BBL at the end of December, as he seeks to rest his battered right index finger ahead of the second Test against India at the new Perth Stadium. “He’s [Paine] all good,” Harris said. “From what JL [Langer] said he just wanted to have a rest today. I didn’t even know there was anything wrong with him. I’m pretty sure he’s all good.”
Born and raised in Perth before moving to Victoria in 2016, Harris is in the odd position of playing a Test in his home town having never played at the venue where it will be held. Perth Stadium will become the 10th venue to host a Test match in Australia.
“I remember coming to Test Matches here all the time,” Harris said of the WACA Ground. “I remember the first Test that I ever came to, I think within the first five minutes, Glenn McGrath had a hat-trick against West Indies so there have always been great memories for me coming to Test Matches in Perth and hopefully I can create some memories for young kids coming to games at the new stadium.
“A Test win or a Test hundred or a five-wicket haul is all the same no matter where it is. I haven’t been to the new stadium so it will be a new experience for me but from what I have heard it is a good wicket and pretty similar to the WACA so it will be good in that way. It will be good to play the first Test there and get a win.”
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.