Australian cricket’s fundamentals will be on trial at the new Perth Stadium over the next five days, as an undermanned team led by Tim Paine will seek to level the series with an Indian side traditionally all at sea in fast and bouncy conditions but now increasingly sure of themselves on days when the red ball flies.
Searing first day temperatures, in excess of 35C, will complicate the decision for either captain at the toss, but Paine was clear that whichever way it fell, his team would need to start as strongly as they did in Adelaide before sustaining their efforts more coherently thereafter. To that end, former captain Ricky Ponting joined the team for their final training session, offering advice to the batsmen that followed the time-honoured lines of Perth – leaving the ball on length, being selective on balls to drive and cashing in on the cut and the pull.
“I know he’s always in and around our group, I know he has been for the last six to eight months to be fair, and he’s working with Channel Seven so he’s around the venues. And one of the things we’re trying to do is get our ex-players back, so he’s just another one when he’s around we try to tap into,” Paine said of Ponting. “Him in particular i think, he makes our batting group walk a bit taller and fills them with confidence, so I’m sure they were all speaking to him today at certain periods.
“You want to be judging the length of balls well but we know in Perth traditionally, and even at this venue, in the short amount of time it’s quite quick and bouncy, so it’s one of the things we’ve spoken about, something you speak to all the time when you come to Perth, it’s just about adjusting to different conditions. All our guys have had experience doing it at first-class level so this week will be no different.”
In declaring that Australia’s batting lineup would be unchanged in addition to the playing XI itself, Paine delivered a strong vote of confidence in both Aaron Finch and Mitchell Starc, the opening batsman and pace bowler who both had indifferent matches in Adelaide, the former against the moving ball and the latter struggling to control the sort of swing he had been trying to regain for some time. As an aggressive batsman and a piercing fast bowler, Finch and Starc are the sort of players who could quickly swing a match on a pacy pitch.
“Finchy’s been successful at international cricket, I think he played really well in the UAE, he’s like any other player, he just needs that one score to get that little bit more self-belief at Test level that we know he’s got at international T20 and one-day cricket,” Paine said. “Finchy’s no different to any other player. You’re not going to succeed at international cricket unless you stick to your strengths, and Finchy knows the best way he goes about his batting. We’ve just got to keep him on track and make sure he keeps trying to do that. If he does, he’ll come good for us.
“I think [Starc] will swing it out there, the conditions are going to suit him down to the ground and one thing I know about Starcy is when he cops a bit of criticism normally he takes it pretty personally and that sometimes gets the best out of him. So pretty pumped to see him go tomorrow or the next day and see what he can produce. We know his best is the best, so really excited to have him in our team and we realise how lucky we are to have him.
“We’ve got a really settled and experienced bowling attack, so I don’t think we’ll have to say too much. They know what works at Test cricket, they’ve done it before and played on all types of surfaces and adapted really quickly. So this wicket might play really well, we don’t know, it’ll just be about having a look in that first half an hour and whatever team can settle and adjust to the conditions better are going to get well ahead of the game.”
Paine conceded he had been in a state of some emotional anguish at the end of the Adelaide Test when he questioned the accuracy of ball-tracking, leading to the Virtual Eye operator Ian Taylor to reiterate his open invitation to the players to see how the technology worked, based on picking up the ball at numerous fixed positions on its way down the pitch. But he was also hopeful for better policing of no-balls in Perth, after Ishant Sharma’s transgressions for one wicket and another lbw appeal were shown to be only two of many by the broadcasters.
“No I haven’t [taken up the offer] but I have thought about it,” Paine said. “It was at the end of a pretty close Test match and I was probably a little bit emotional or upset that a couple of things didn’t go our way, but I certainly understand how it works and understand the technology. It was more a bit of frustration coming out that we got a few wrong and we thought a couple might’ve been hitting the stumps that weren’t. Can it get better? Yep. Do I have the answer? No.
“I spoke to them [the umpires] on one of the days really quickly [about no-balls], because I was watching the telecast in the change room, so just to get an idea of whether they were communicating to the umpires in the middle which they said they were. What I do know is, it’s not an easy job, they’re standing two or three metres away and the guys are running in fast and it all happens pretty quickly. As long as we’re aware of it and looking at solutions that can help that process then I’m all for it. But I hope this Test match it is done a little better.”