AS bouncers go, this was one from David Moody that you would imagine even his 6’6″ tall uncle, Tom, to have struggled with, at least in terms of keeping it down. It wasn’t really the pace on it but more the elevation, or the height to which it soared—disconcerting even if it wasn’t all that well-targeted. Shikhar Dhawan simply got out of harm’s way and swung his bat horizontally. Luckily, it hit some part of his bat and flew to the fine-leg fence for four. The next delivery was short too but rose only till his right arm-pit. India’s left-handed opener attempted a pull again, but only connected barely enough to help get Virat Kohli on strike.
Not surprisingly, for the third straight delivery of this, the 9th over of the innings, Moody had an Indian’s head in his sights. But Kohli was ready. Or so it seemed as he rocked back and hooked the ball that pitched half way down the WACA pitch over the fine-leg fence and into the stands for a six.
It was everything that you expect to see from the opening day’s play of an Australian tour. Big, burly pacers pounding down the wicket and testing the Indian batsman’s skills against the short-ball. More so on the Perth wicket. But for once, it was the visitors who were dominating, if not getting the tour off to a promising start.
Yes, it was a second-string Western Australian attack that they had to contend against but Kohli and Dhawan began their respective soujourns Down Under in belligerent fashion, scoring 74 each at strike-rates well over 160. But for once it wasn’t the batsman who hogged the limelight as Barinder Sran on his first tour with the Indian team—and his first game in national colours—starred with the ball, snaring two early wickets in an economical spell of 2/24 in four overs to set up a 74-win victory for MS Dhoni’s team.
By the end of the day, thanks to Dhawan’s admission, the left-arm seamer would have also earned himself a nickname in ‘Barry’.
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In more positives, the Indian spin trio of R Ashwin, Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja too seemed to come to grips with the WACA surface, quite literally, as they spun webs around the hapless Australian batsmen, the two left-arm spinners finishing with two wickets apiece. Even though it was only a practice match, the Indians played in front of a partisan audience, with thousands of expats crowding the grassbanks at the historic WACA stadium. And to their credit, Kohli and Dhawan did play to the crowd after losing Rohit Sharma to an indecision that led to a run-out in the early going.
It was Dhawan who got off to an explosive start, and by the time Kohli found the fence for the first time, his fellow Delhi batsman had struck three fours and a six off the seamers. It was the introduction of Liam O’Connor that saw the Indian Test captain open up as he ferociously pulled and cut the leg-spinner for fours of consecutive deliveries. There was no stopping Kohli from that point on and when Moody returned to the bowling crease, the Indian batsmen had got their eye in. The right-hander got to his half-century off the first delivery in lucky fashion as a ball flew off his outside-edge towards the wide thirdman fence. The next ball went for four too before he air-lifted the third over long-off for a mighty six. The fourth too was sent racing towards the mid-wicket fence before Dhawan joined in the fun as Moody conceded 23 runs in the over.
There was no stopping Kohli from that point on and when Moody returned to the bowling crease, the Indian batsmen had got their eye in. The right-hander got to his half-century off the first delivery in lucky fashion as a ball flew off his outside-edge towards the wide thirdman fence. The next ball went for four too before he air-lifted the third over long-off for a mighty six. The fourth too was sent racing towards the mid-wicket fence before Dhawan joined in the fun as Moody conceded 23 runs in the over.
Kohli finally fell to a wide slash off Josh Nicholas, which was caught acrobatically by wicket-keeper Josh Inglis to bring an end to a 149-run stand. Dhoni, who remained unbeaten on 22 off 14 balls, immediately walked in and got going, hitting his first delivery for four. He followed it up with a couple of six-hits to take India to 192/4 in their 20 overs.
It was then the turn of the bowlers to do the star-turn. Sran sent back D’Arcy Short and former U-19 Australian captain William Bosisto, who was leading the WA XI on Friday, in the space of three deliveries, both caught by R Ashwin. Umesh Yadav and Rishi Dhawan were consistent without being incisive. But it was once the spinners came on that India really began dicatating terms, which they would hope to be the case once the one-day series starts in three days time at the same venue.
Veteran Western Australian batsman Travis Birt was the only home team batsman to make a mark, remaining unbeaten on 74 off 60 balls. After a wicket-taking start to his first spell as an ‘India’ bowler, Sran returned in the late overs to finish his quota, again in impressive fashion. Along the way, he also seemed to have impressed many of his new teammates.
“It was a great boost for Barry. We call him Barry now. In time he is going to get more experienced and more mature. He looks fit and strong, and looks a good prospect for the Indian team,” said Dhawan after the day’s play. The opener who’s coming off a poor series against South Africa will be looking to make amends in a country that he now calls his adopted home.
“I’m quite happy that I have scored runs in the practice match. It is good that I have got used to this pitch. The longer you spend in the middle the better it is. It was a good time to get into the groove. Good to get a hundred-run partnership before the main matches start. Whatever we needed from this match we got it. We are happy about it,” he said. India now play their second warm-up match at the WACA on Saturday. It will be a 50-over match.
Brief Scores: India 192/4 in 20 overs (Virat Kohli 74 (44), Shikhar Dhawan 74 (46) MS Dhoni 22 n.o.) bt Western Australian XI 118/6 in 20 overs (Travis Birt 74 n.o. (60); Ravindra Jadeja 2/13, Axar Patel 2/13, Barinder Sran 2/24) by 74 runs.
‘Will fight fire with fire’
The famous rivalry set to resurface, India’s star batsman Rohit Sharma says the upcoming limited overs series against Australia Down Under will be a case of “fighting fire with fire”.
The five-ODI and three-T20 series begins here on January 12 and both Australia and India, after enjoying big wins against lacklustre West Indies and South Africa in their previous Test assignments respectively, are keen to get going in the shorter formats of the game.
“It will be a case of fighting fire with fire. Both teams have a history against each other and are highly charged up wanting to get results in their favour,” Rohit told ‘bcci.tv’.
Coming off a big Test series win over South Africa, Rohit believed the transition from the five-day format to ODIs wouldn’t be very difficult. “For me the transition between formats just goes with the flow. As professional cricketers we have been switching formats for a long time and we are used to it by now. It is just about staying in the right frame of mind. It is very important to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are and prepare accordingly. Preparations are key for any format.”
The Mumbai batsman recalled the team’s last tour of this country. “The last series that we played here (in 2014) was very closely contested. Although the result didn’t go our way, we fought right till the end. We played some good and positive cricket, which is exactly what we want to do this time as well,” he said.
Rohit, whose first tour Down Under was way back in 2008 when he batted alongside Sachin Tendulkar and scored a patient half-century in an all-important CB series final, made two more visits here, the last being the 2015 World Cup.
“Having been here before, you do get to know what to expect from the opposition. Australia is an opposition who do not give anything away easily. As a side playing against them, you have to grind your way and test yourself in the middle. Nothing comes easy here; you have to earn every run. As a cricketer it is very exciting to face and thrive on such challenges. What you do to conquer them and come out winning will be a real test of your character. People appreciate your performances here and putting up notable contributions will do a world of good.”