Australia coach Justin Langer on Thursday said he has never seen a batsman concentrate as hard as India’s Test specialist Cheteshwar Pujara, who starred in their historic 2-1 series win Down Under.
Pujara won the Player of the Series award after scoring 521 runs, including three hundreds, across four Tests.
Speaking for the first time since the visiting team’s first Test series triumph on Australian soil, Langer said Pujara’s concentration was a challenge for his bowlers.
“...I have never seen a batsman watch the ball as closely as he does, and that includes Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid,” Langer told reporters.
“His concentration was a challenge. And we have to keep getting better just like him, all our batsmen and bowlers.”
Langer said Australia’s bowlers were stretched to the limit in the Test series, especially in Melbourne and Sydney.
“The first innings in Melbourne and Sydney, honestly, sucked the life out of us because when you are in the field for two days, with only one spin bowler, that takes energy out of the group,” he said, ahead of ODI series starting Saturday.
“We have the best spinner and three outstanding pace bowlers, against the outstanding Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli. So it takes some mental and physical energy out.
“There are new players and new staff for these three games, so that brings new energy to the group...,” he added.
Australia’s fast bowlers drew all-round criticism for failing to be as effective as India’s pace battery but Langer backed them. The home team will be missing Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins in the ODI series, as they have been rested to manage workloads.
“...they copped some pretty strong criticism throughout the series,” Langer said. “But on two very flat wickets they kept running in hard and having a go and in this instance they were beaten by a brilliant Indian side. We were beaten by a better side.”
Langer said the challenge is ever present for Australia despite a change in format as the Indian ODI team is just as strong as the Test team. Both sides get down to their respective World Cup preparations with the upcoming series.
“After losing in 2001, in 2004 when we finally beat India in India at Nagpur, without doubt that was the Everest moment of my cricket career,” Langer said.
“So I am sure for most of the Indian players, especially Virat Kohli, it feels the same but when you are at the top, things are on the way down,” he warned the visitors.
“They will be very buoyed and excited but we plan to fight for everything. They have a good one-day team and we are up against it. Let’s hope we are better than we were in the Test series.”
The Australian coach felt his players have the talent but just need to apply themselves a bit more.
“It’s the exciting thing, when you lose a series to India, it’s disappointing but it helps you get better and it’s the same where we are at the moment.
“It is an unbelievable opportunity for us in Tests and ODI cricket to get better and we have to do that. We have the talent, now we have to look at the experience and ability, and aspire to do it,” he said.
Australia have made an addition to their squad with batsman Ashton Turner coming in for Mitchell Marsh, who is suffering from gastroenteritis and is not available for the first ODI.
Australia have also recalled off-spinner Nathan Lyon to their ODI squad. Langer said that this is a move keeping the World Cup in mind, but didn’t commit if the hosts would play two spinners in the first match of the series.
“Lyon’s record in white-ball cricket is very good and he is the best spinner in the world,” the head coach said. “So it would be a waste of opportunity if we don’t play him in white-ball cricket, particularly with the World Cup coming up.
“He is nice and fit, and a gun fielder. I cannot wait to see how he goes and he is also excited about it,” he said.
Langer also spoke about Australia’s World Cup preparations, and how they are close to finding the right group of players in a bid to retain their 2015 title this summer.
“No one ever feels locked in,” he said. “We have a clear plan how we will play our one-day cricket between now and the World Cup.
“It will be a great opportunity for Lyon and for our batsmen, as we have 10-15 games before the World Cup. So we will pick our [final] side after that. As always we will look to prepare well and win the World Cup,” he said.
“In the next few months we will have a group of players together and build towards the World Cup, for which we have a clear idea of who we would like to have but we will have to wait,” he added.