Australia’s Test squad has spent barely 24 hours in steamy Sri Lanka but opener Joe Burns already feels perfectly prepared for whatever unfamiliar conditions and opposition he’s likely to confront over the next five weeks.
Burns was one of four members of Australia’s 15-man squad who spent the preceding week at a mini training camp in the India city of Chennai, barely an hour’s flight from Colombo where the Australians are now based for the next week and a half.
Along with ‘keeper Peter Nevill, spinner Steve O’Keefe and seam bowler Jackson Bird, Burns took the opportunity to acclimatise to the stifling post-monsoon humidity and heat as well as the nature of sub-continental pitches before intensive pre-Test training begins here tomorrow.
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That training included facing an array of aspiring young quicks being put through their paces by Madras Pace Foundation head and former Australia Test legend Glenn McGrath and gaining insights into sub-continental conditions from local Indian players.
“The key thing for me was going from off season and getting back into really intensive training, training that’s going to be similar to Test match preparation in terms of the skill work that we do,” Burns told cricket.com.au as the squad underwent low-key gymnasium and swimming sessions on Sunday.
“And also the fact that it was really hot - I think it was over 40 degrees some of the days that we were there in Chennai.
“Nothing can really prepare your body for that in Australia during winter, so just to have a week’s head start before the tour officially gets going has been fantastic and now that we’re here in Sri Lanka I’m ready to go.”
Unlike many of his squad mates who have been involved at UK county level, in the Indian Premier League and then last month’s triangular ODI series in the Caribbean that Australia won, Burns has not played a top-level game since last March’s two-Test tour of New Zealand.
Where he cemented his berth as David Warner’s long-term opening partner with a career-high 170 in the final Test at Christchurch, earning him man-of-the-match honours in a victory that clinched Australia the prize as the world’s number-one ranked Test team.
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But the 26-year-old Queenslander has not only spent a rare four-month break in his cricket calendar undergoing an abbreviated pre-season on his own and then with the Queensland Bulls, he has been assiduously preparing for what awaits in coming Test matches at Kandy (Pallekele), Galle and Colombo.
Not only by studying the injury ravaged Sri Lankan bowling attack that laboured without much success during their recent winless campaign in England, but also in partnership with former Queensland captain and ex-Sri Lanka and Bangladesh coach Stuart Law.
Law is filling the role of Australia’s batting coach on the current tour while incumbent Greg Blewett remains in Adelaide with wife Catherine awaiting the birth of their second child, and Law’s knowledge of local players and conditions is expected to prove invaluable.
“He (Law) is a great resource to have and I’m sure we’re going to work together closely over the next few weeks in preparing and refining our game now that we’re over here,” Burns said.
“We’ve already talked about different game plans for the bowlers they (Sri Lanka) have got, and I guess we’ll sit down once we know their final squad and go over things again and develop things from there.
“I certainly watched them (Sri Lanka) play in England, especially their new-ball bowlers.
“Even though conditions are going to be very different here you can still get a sense of how their pace bowlers will go about it with the new ball.
“It’s an area that we’re going to have to be really strong in against Sri Lanka.
“If we can start well and nullify the new ball then I think we’ve got enough strength throughout our middle-order to deal with their spin threat.
“For me I see that as my job for the tour – really nullify the new-ball and hopefully push on from there.”
Another member of Australia’s new-look coaching staff for the 10-week Qantas Tour of Sri Lanka, that includes five ODIs and two T20 internationals as well the three Test matches that start on July 26, is former South Africa strike bowler and bowling coach Allan Donald.
Donald arrived in Colombo today and is expected to be part of tomorrow’s first training session at P Sara stadium where Australia will play a two-day centre-wicket practice game including members of the touring National Performance Squad and a three-day warm-up match prior to the opening Test.
He will take over as bowling coach from Craig McDermott to work closely with pace bowlers Mitchell Starc (with whom he developed a strong relationship at Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL), Josh Hazlewood, Bird and Nathan Coulter-Nile.
While Australia’s recent poor form in sub-continental conditions is largely attributed to a susceptibility against high quality spin bowling on turning tracks, Burns sees the battle with the new ball being just as crucial.
Which is why it played an integral part of his pre-tour preparation ahead of his arrival in Chennai last week, where he has since begun sharpening his skills against reverse swing and spin.
“I think any time you have a new ball, it will swing and seam a bit,” Burns told cricket.com.au.
“Obviously on the drier-style wickets over here that might not last as long as in Brisbane or Perth, but the threat is still the same.
“You still need to be on your game.
“Talking to some people recently, the wicket for the first Test in Kandy can often be a little bit green in that first session on day one.
“So I haven’t neglected the new ball practice and it’s one of the things that I’ve focused on in the off-season – my new-ball game knowing that then coming to India and Sri Lanka we’d get plenty of reverse swing work here.
“It’s an area that I’ve tried to improve and hopefully things I’ve worked on will hold me in good stead come game time.”