We got a bit of a peek-a-boo at the pitch in Bangalore and how it might play two days ahead of India’s game against Bangladesh. When Australia started to bowl on a fresh pitch against Bangladesh, their seamers got bounce and even hurried up the batsmen. As the overs went by, especially by the time of the chase, the ball had begun to hold on the track. Australians stuttered in the end, losing three wickets for 17 runs, but managed to get over Bangladesh’s 156, with 9 balls to spare and three wickets in hand.
If India’s game here on the 23rd is played on the adjacent track that hosted Sri Lanka vs West Indies game on Sunday, we could see the ball stop, turn, and it could get interesting. We don’t have to wait too long to find out and in the here and now, we can dwell a bit on the best batsman on Monday night.
Of all the dazzling shots Usman Khawaja played in his knock of 58 that had seven fours and a six, one which fetched him just a single stood out. A little flick to covers. The mind went back to Charlie Davis’ rave about a fellow West Indian batsman Rohan Kanhai. “Rohan flicked the balls to covers you know. He flicked it all the time.” It’s a shot that for some reason delights fellow cricketers. If you can flick the wrist from right to left, you can do the reverse – inside-out- of course but it seems unnatural to conceive. And it seems almost un-Australian shot. They are usually all-arms and it’s only natural that a Pakistani-born man would be the one who does it with such ease.
There is so much else about him that sets apart from the other Australian batsmen. The attacking lot among them have a sort of bossiness about their gait, normally visible just after a shot is completed. Khawaja has this nonchalant way of walking here and there with an easy relaxed air. It seems he is anywhere but on a cricket field playing in an international game for Australia.
Just how it seemed earlier this year when during the Australian national anthem, he squeezed the debutant Adam Zampa’s bum. “It was all consensual, just having a joke with the debutant,” he tweeted later. Just imagine if it had happened in India of today. Flag-waving patriots might have had a field day. And for those who are interested, Zampa didn’t stand next to Khawaja at the anthem on Monday night.
It was Zampa who first set up the game with some clever leg-spin bowling. A young upcoming spinner is quickly assessing how things can be different in Indian conditions. “It’s the lengths. The batsmen here play it to different parts than how it’s in Australia”. He went on to explain that. “The ball holds up here and the batsmen can wait and pull a ball from a length that they probably won’t be able to do in Australia.” It sort of skids on, rushes on to the batsmen in Australia and he is learning to get things right here.
He did most of things right on Monday. Even the leggie’s traditional weapon — the long hop. It was short and if it were Australia, and stopped on Mohammad Mithun who waited but pulled it straight to deep midwicket. He went on to mix up his pace well — punctuating his slower legbreaks with quickish sliders and flippers. One went through rather quickly on this two-paced track to trap Shuvagata Hom in front. When Shakib Al Hasan moved away from the stumps in preparation for an assault, Zampa slided it out slightly away from Shakib, who had to reach out for his cut and ended up edging to backward point.
Zampa and Khawaja, the ‘bum pals’, did the job for Australia. Zampa’s has been a disciplined rise, Khawaja’s has been more eventful. Khawaja was one of those four Australian cricketers who were caught in that homework gate in 2013 in India and sent back. A knee injury derailed his career further and a big decision to move out of New South Wales and play for Queensland brought him back on track. Four successive Test hundreds – against West Indies and New Zealand, a smashing hundred in the Big Bash final has meant he is in great space. And now with this stylish but brutal knock at the top, he has showcased his skills to the Indian fans.