Brisbane, Dec 14: Australia's bid to address its recent batting woes has already been wryly dubbed the batting boot camp.
Cricket Australia on Wednesday announced a “batting group camp” would be held from Dec. 20-22 for batsmen in the selection mix for the four-test series against India who weren't already involved in the scheduled tour match in Canberra.
The first test against the top-ranked Indians starts Dec. 26 in Melbourne and the Australian team is in upheaval after losing eight wickets for 74 in a seven-run loss to No. 8-ranked New Zealand earlier this week in Hobart. It was New Zealand's first test win on Australian soil since 1985.
The collapse against New Zealand exacerbated concern over the batting order which became glaring in South Africa last month when the Australians were dismissed for 47 at Cape Town.
So ex-captain Ricky Ponting will go into the camp a day after his 37th birthday along with 36-year-old Mike Hussey, skipper Michael Clarke, allrounder Shane Watson, injured top-order batsman Shaun Marsh, wicketkeeper-batsman Brad Haddin and allrounder Dan Christian.
Opener Phillip Hughes, arguably the most in need of some fresh instruction on technique after being dismissed by Chris Martin in almost identical fashion in all four innings against New Zealand, is among those exempt from the camp because they're playing for the Chairman's XI against an Indian XI at Canberra at the same time.
Others playing in that game are David Warner, who carried his bat for an unbeaten 123 in the second test against New Zealand, Usman Khawaja and uncapped test prospect Ed Cowan.
Pat Howard, Cricket Australia's general manager for team performance, said coach Mickey Arthur had driven the camp concept.
“We want to bring the key batsmen together to start focussing on the Boxing Day test match ... just to put the microscope on everything and for fine-tuning,” Howard said. Arthur “has done a great job. He said, ‘Look, we need to put some extra time and focus on this,' ... to deal with everything to give us our best chance.”
The test squad will be announced Dec. 22.
Normally, struggling test batsmen go back to the Sheffield Shield first-class competition to work their way back into form, but the only domestic competition available this month will be Australia's revamped Twenty20 Big Bash League; not an ideal tuneup for test cricket.
Former Australia rugby international Howard has been in the high-performance unit for a month, and has witnessed two of Australia's most discouraging losses in decades, in Cape Town and Hobart. Arthur has been coach for two tests after taking a year off international cricket following his stint in charge at South Africa.
“We've inherited a schedule that's there,” Howard said of the lack of four-day matches in Australia in a reworked calendar this summer. “The schedule is the schedule, we need to deal with it.”
Players contracted to the national team will be available for their Big Bash clubs for the opening round, before the batsmen are called to the camp or the tour match.
The 23-year-old Hughes has withdrawn from Twenty20 cricket this season in a bid to regain the kind of form that saw him score centuries in each innings of only his second test in March 2009. He has only scored one century since then, but still averages 34.6 in 17 tests.
Howard said team management had mapped out a timeframe for Hughes to concentrate on ironing out the deficiencies in his technique that restricted him to 41 runs across four innings against New Zealand, out each time edging a swinging ball outside off stump.
“We gave him a little bit of time to think about it and digest it,” Howard said. “It's been a coordinated effort and consolidated response.
“I'm extremely impressed with him. There's a lot of pressure on him. He's held himself very highly.”