Chennai: More than 90 minutes after the Test had finished, Michael Clarke was still on the Chepauk outfield, deep in conversation with Shane Warne, former teammate and mentor. At one point during his post-match press conference, when asked about the possibility of drafting more spinners into the squad, he had joked: "Warney's in town, we'll see if he's available."
An eight-wicket defeat was no laughing matter though, and Clarke was quick to pay tribute to his counterpart, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, whose herculean 224 meant that the last three Indian first-innings wickets added 200. "I think there are areas in both teams you need to focus on," he said, after India had needed less than a session on the final day to wrap up the match. "There are areas in the Indian team we didn't attack enough. If we'd got 150 or 200 on the board [for them to chase], we might have been able to expose, or at least seen how they played on a deteriorating wicket. A lot of credit has to go to India. They outplayed us. MS Dhoni certainly led the charge. I thought Virat Kohli was outstanding as well – his hundred – but Dhoni changed the game."
As much as the runs he scored, it was the rate at which Dhoni made them that hurt Australia, giving India's spinners plenty of time to make inroads on a crumbling pitch. "It certainly had an impact on the game," said Clarke. "It contributed a lot to India's success in this Test match. But like I said, Kohli made a fantastic hundred. Ashwin got seven [wickets] in the first, and five in the second. That's three very good performances. We were outplayed."
Given how India's spin trio accounted for all 20 wickets, questions were invariably asked of Australia's team composition, with three out-and-out fast bowlers and the medium pace of Moises Henriques the foil for Nathan Lyon's offspin. "We've got the same options we had before this Test," said Clarke, when asked if there'd be a rethink. "Australian spin took three wickets in the first innings. Fast bowling took a lot more. That doesn't mean to say we got it right by playing three fast bowlers and a medium-pace allrounder. We need to look at conditions again and work out what we think is the best XI. It's not just about selection. It's about how you perform. I don't think we bowled well enough in our first innings, and we certainly didn't bat well enough in our second innings."
Apart from James Pattinson's penetrative spells at high pace and Clarke's superb first-innings hundred, the one bright spot for Australia was the assurance with which Henriques batted in his debut Test. He was less of a threat with the ball, but Clarke was confident that he could cope if Australia did decide to include a second spinner in the XI for Hyderabad.
"If we don't have a third fast bowler, Moises can certainly do that role," he said. "I think it's very exciting the way he's started. He's been a very talented player for a long time, and it's nice to see that potential come to the forefront in his first Test match. He looked very comfortable with both bat and ball, and that's exciting for Australian cricket going forward."
India rejigged their own combination, playing two offspinners in order to prey on the minds of the left-handers in the Australian line-up. Clarke, however, wasn't too fussed by that, saying that whether it was Harbhajan Singh or Pragyan Ojha that played, Australia needed to bat better.
"You're going to face both [offspin and left-arm spin] if you're playing against India," he said. They've got two right-arm offspinners, [Ravindra] Jadeja played, and you've got Ojha bowling now [in the nets]. I think you have to find a way against the ball spinning in both directions. I think it's more personal preference. For me, I don't think it matters too much. I got out to a ball spinning away in the first innings, and to one spinning back in in the second innings [laughs]. I'd like it to go dead straight. That would be nice. I don't think we can blame the number of left-handers we have. We've just got to find a way to execute our skills better, with bat and ball."
David Warner's tummy troubles prompted Shane Watson's promotion up the order in the second innings, and suspicions remain in many quarters that Clarke is batting too low down at No.5. It's not an argument that has any merits in his eyes. "I've had that discussion every Test match since being captain," he said. "I don't know how moving up the order guarantees any more runs. No matter where you bat, the guys in the top seven need to make sure we're scoring the majority of the runs."
More than the order, what Australia lacked was a batsman who could dominate the Indian spinners and throw them off their lengths, much like Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist [Mumbai, 2001] or Clarke himself [Bangalore, 2004] had done in previous tours. Of the specialist batsmen, only Warner and Ed Cowan in the first innings – when India's new-ball bowlers gave them enough to hit – and Clarke in the second managed a strike-rate better than 60.
"I've always made it clear to the players that I want them to back their own ability, and play how they see fit," said Clarke. "Credit needs to go to the Indian bowlers, but the players know they have the freedom to play their way."
There was also a spirited defence of the fields set for Nathan Lyon, whose bowling Dhoni feasted on (104 runs off 85 balls faced) to change the complexion of the match. "The plan is to try and take wickets," said Clarke. "The most important thing is to have fielders in catching positions. But if everyone's in saving a single, it's much easier to hit boundaries."
An account of Lyon's struggles should also not be devoid of context. Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan, the two greatest spinners of the age, averaged 43 and 45 in India, while conceding more than three an over. "You want to take wickets, but you also want to give Nathan a little protection as well," said Clarke. "That's why we had the fields we had."
Story first published on: Tuesday, 26 February 2013 14:57 IST