Steven Smith talks about the challenges that an India tour presents, lessons from Sri Lanka, and how the side's senior players need to step up.
Looking back over the Test summer, was Hobart your wits' end?
We had lost five Test matches in a row, and that is unacceptable from my point of view, so we had to do something to turn that around. We had some changes in personnel and got some younger guys in. We probably didn't think they would perform as well as they did straight away, which has been very pleasing. I felt a shift in energy and enthusiasm and attitude around the group, and that was from the very first time we got together in Adelaide, before the Test match. Since then everything has gone pretty well.
Important for you as a captain, then, to "crack the whip", both publicly and within the team?
I wasn't overly happy with what was going on, so things had to change and we had to start playing better cricket. Since the change, it's been good, the way we have gone about our cricket has been the most pleasing aspect. We have worried about the processes and everything that we have done has been good to get us into positions where we can win games of cricket. We are not the end product yet, we have got plenty of work to do, particularly with India coming up. It is going to be a difficult tour, we are going to lose games of cricket along the way, but as long as we stick to the processes and do the basics well regularly, we are going to win a lot more games than we lose.
"Attitude" is a word you have used there. How key will the team's attitude be to tackling India - knowing it's difficult and having the right mindset to respond to that?
It's a difficult place to tour. India play incredibly well in their own backyard, and each individual is going to have to have plans in place. Ashwin and Jadeja have been incredible for a while now. They have got a couple of good quicks who bowl good reverse swing, and their batsmen score big runs. Looking at the India-England series, England actually played reasonably well, they scored big runs, but India just went bigger and bigger. We are going to have to find ways to get them out and we are going to have to find ways to bat for long periods - 150 overs in your first innings and set the game up from there.
"If the game is dead and buried and we can't win, you want to see the fight to do everything you can to stay out there and get the team a draw. That is something we haven't done overly well in the past"
Your vice-captain, David Warner, hasn't made a hundred overseas since the UAE in 2014. What do you want to see out of him?
It's pretty important that our senior players step up in those conditions and take control. It's something we didn't do overly well in Sri Lanka, and we didn't get the results that we wanted there. The senior players - myself, Davey, [Mitchell] Starcy, Josh [Hazlewood] and Nathan Lyon - need to step up and really take control. I'm going to do it differently to Davey. You don't want to get rid of someone's natural flair and the way they play. But if he gets to a hundred, it might be about knuckling down again and going big, get 200 or 300, like Karun Nair did a few weeks ago. Those are the big scores that set your team up, so just being hungry and willing to keep going and not let up.
Something else the team has been missing for a while is avoiding defeat if you fall behind early on in a match. You haven't played in a drawn Test match since the first week of January last year, and that was rain-affected. Is that something you want to see change, particularly overseas?
Absolutely. Obviously you want to win first and foremost, but a draw is a much better result than a loss. If the game is dead and buried and we can't win, you want to see the fight and the willingness to put your natural game away and do everything you can to stay out there and get the team a draw. That is something we haven't done overly well in the past. When we are a long way behind the game and chasing 500 or something in the last innings, guys have still just gone out and played, rather than do what Faf [du Plessis] did at Adelaide a few years ago and just block it and give yourself a chance to survive.
In Sri Lanka last year, something you and Darren Lehmann both spoke about was needing to throw out what the Australian team knows and look for something different to win over there. But when you have an Australian summer and you finish the Test series winning, as you have, how challenging is it to get that mindset again?
It's just a completely different game altogether. You have got to let go of what has come before and worry about what is in front of you. It's so different, the way you play there relative to here, there are no similarities at all. You have almost got to forget what you do in Australia and find another method, a way to play in those conditions and have success. It's hard to say, because each individual does it differently, but you don't get conditions like that here. The ball does not bounce as much there, so you need to have a strong defence, first of all.
I think we have been guilty in the past of saying, "A ball is going to have your name on it, so get them before one gets you." To be honest with you, that's rubbish. I think if your defence is good and you back that, then the one that has got your name on it generally spins past the bat or does too much. So get that out of your mind,. It's going to be about backing your defence and making sure you can bat for long enough. Everyone in our team has got the shots, but get yourself in; things get easier, and then be willing to go big.
When you have a home summer as it is, with blocks of Tests, ODIs and T20s going on underneath, how much time realistically do you get to prepare specifically for that challenge?
It's not easy. I know over the last Test match in Sydney a few of us did some skill development as much as we can in the conditions. We got some balls thrown to us, we faced spinners in the nets, batting at the end where the bowlers usually bowl from, so balls hit the rough and do some unpredictable things. Just trying to get outside your comfort zone a little bit and facing something unpredictable is part of what you get over there. That's a good start, but it is difficult here in Australia to prepare for what you get over there - there is too much bounce in the wickets and things like that. So it's hard to get the replication of the ball spinning and skidding on. You have got to try to find ways and time to do it as well, because we are playing in a series at the moment and every series is important. Difficult to find adequate measures to get it done, but you have got to try to do what you can.
How much do you cast your mind back to 2013 and all the time you had there to learn about how to bat in India, not playing until the third Test?
It was really fortunate we had such a big touring party and so we were able to have a couple guys running drinks at a time, and then the other guys going to the nets and facing the net bowlers. Diva [Michael Di Venuto] was out the back a lot of the time throwing balls and things like that. I reckon I was spending close to two hours a day just in the nets, batting and learning about the conditions. It was some of the best development I've come across. I wouldn't say I wrote anything down about what I did, but it was just the experience of doing it on the job and finding out what you needed to have some success over there and find the right method for you. For me it was about either getting down the wicket or [going] deep in my crease and getting a good reach out in front of myself when I'm defending, trying to get my pad out of the way and things like that. Because I was doing it for such long periods of time against some pretty good net bowlers, the two hours a day I was spending in the nets during the Tests were some of the best development sessions I've done.
Is that the sort of thing you're hoping to get out of the time in Dubai before you reach India?
Batters will try to replicate the conditions we are going to get as much as we can. Speaking to David Saker, that's what England did a few years ago when they had success. The bounce you get is more similar to India than anywhere else. Hopefully we can get wickets that spin and things like that, and guys can get some good volume in. A few of our guys haven't played Test cricket in India before, so they need to find a method they can succeed with; it's so different to here and they need to find the right one for them.
"I think we have been guilty in the past of saying, 'A ball is going to have your name on it, so get them before one gets you.' That's rubbish"
Your own spin bowling will be vital too. How much is that going to be about consistency, simply landing ball after ball in the same spot?
It's that and being able to, at the same time, mix up the seam positions you bowl with. If you look at Ashwin, who has done incredibly well, he has a seam that is a side seam, a 45-degrees seam that goes over the top to go with a carrom ball that he doesn't bowl that often. He is able to do that and generally bowl extremely consistently. He hits the same spot with the different seams and the ball reacts differently from there - the pitch does a lot of that. Jadeja is pretty similar; he maybe doesn't have as many seam positions, but he just hits a good area - some spin more than others, some skid - and just challenges your defence the whole time and lets the wicket do that work.
Steve O'Keefe's injury in Sri Lanka was pretty damaging to your chances. You have known him for a long time at New South Wales. Does it seem to you like the penny has dropped for him in terms of making sure he makes this one count?
He has had some issues with his body, and I think he has done the right thing to take the BBL off. It's a pretty fast-paced game and knowing how competitive SOK is, he doesn't have another level - he either goes 100% or he's not playing. So I think it's good we are not risking him there with how fragile his body is. I think he is going to be a big player for us in those conditions. He understands how to bowl in those conditions. He had a bit of success on the A tour of India. He was a big loss for us in Sri Lanka. He looked like taking a wicket every ball, and he has worked with Sri [Sridharan Sriram] from India who understands how to bowl in those conditions as well, understands the different arm angles and seam positions and paces you have to bowl on those wickets. That's a big plus. If we are going to have success on this tour, he is going to be a big part of it.
You mentioned David Saker before. How useful is it to have someone on the support staff who was part of a successful India tour in the recent past?
It is very important. He has seen what England did when they won over there, so he can bring different ideas to the table about how to play in those conditions, how to get the ball shifting in the air, things like that. They had a pretty good team, England, when they won over there [in 2012]. Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann understood how to bowl in those conditions, they bowled very fast and similarly hit a good area consistently and let the wicket do the work, along with the good reverse-swing bowling of Anderson and Broad. They had a very good mix of bowlers, and their senior batters stood up as well. If we are going to have success, it is going to have to be the same as that.
One difference between this tour and Sri Lanka and the UAE before that is the level of expectation. On both those tours Australia were expected to win, whereas few are predicting anything other than an India victory this time around. A different mental approach?
We know it's going to be hard. I wouldn't say a different mental approach - we go on each tour expecting to compete and play well. It's nice that people are writing us off and calling us the underdogs; hopefully we can turn that around once we get over there. But we are under no illusions that it's going to be a difficult tour.