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Not an A-class performance: India’s first taste of red-ball cricket in Australia unsatisfactory

Ajinkya Rahane scored a 100, Umesh Yadav bowled potent spells. Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha spent some valuable time in the middle, Ravichandran Ashwin settled into a fine rhythm, but overall, the Indian contingent’s first red-ball outing in Australia was modest.

Written by Sandip G | Updated: December 9, 2020 9:23:12 am
India A declared their second innings at 189/9 on Tuesday. (Twitter/BCCI)

A largely disappointing match, despite a few positives, is how India would look back at their first tour game, against a more than utilitarian Australian A side. Ajinkya Rahane’s century was reassuring, as was the potency displayed by Umesh Yadav. Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha spent some valuable time in the middle, Ravichandran Ashwin settled into a fine rhythm, but overall, the Indian contingent’s first taste of red-ball cricket in Australia was far from satisfactory.

After the sloppy performance in the first innings, the batsmen had the opportunity to get some useful practice and push for a Test slot, after the hosts declared their first innings at 306/9. But the Indians fared worse, eventually declaring at 189/9 so that the bowlers could get another tilt at the Australia A batsmen. As many as five batsmen got starts, but only Wriddhiman Saha converted it into a meaningful score, and without his 54 not out, the scorecard would have told a sorry tale.

Most disturbing was the form of young openers Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill, both in the fray to partner Mayank Agarwal in Rohit Sharma’s absence. They did better than the blobs they had managed in the first dig, but Shaw’s 19 and Gill’s 29 were far from gratifying. Both played a clutch of gorgeous strokes but perished in their keenness to fetch more boundaries.

Shaw struck a brace of crisp back-foot punches before getting out attempting the same stroke. He did not account for the extra bounce Cameron Green generated, only edging to wide gully. Similarly, Gill floundered trying to slash Green in the air, a stroke that was unwarranted at that juncture of the game. A confident short-ball player, Gill failed to ride the bounce. It’s a mistake subcontinental batsmen often make in Australia; they assume they are on top of the bounce, before realising that the ball has kicked up more than they had gauged. The ball gets big on them, and they lose control over the shot.

Besides, the stroke was uncalled for. Gill was batting fluently, barring an edged boundary that eluded gully, and India had just lost Pujara for a duck, bowled by Michael Neser. It was a devilish delivery, the ball angling in, before kicking away a bit, squaring up the batsman. It was not the first instance in recent times that a similar length has knocked Pujara over. In West Indies, Kemar Roach had hassled him with a similar delivery, between good and hard length, and castled him in the second innings of the first Test in North Sound. So had Vernon Philander in the first innings in Visakhapatnam. It’s because Pujara has the tendency to defend the line of the ball with an angled bat, while not getting a longish stride. No doubt Neser’s delivery was a peach, but Pujara made it look more unplayable than it actually was.

Saha Wridhhiman Saha soaked up 100 balls and stroked seven boundaries, in what was a steely performance that would offer considerable relief to India’s team management. (BCCI/Twitter).

From 50 for 3, Rahane and Hanuma Vihari rebuilt the innings with a 54-run partnership. The latter got going with a sumptuous straight drive, before he failed to negotiate the steep bounce extracted by Neser. It was another reminder that on Australian decks the odd ball would leap up, implying that it’s dangerous to get into the strokes too early. Rahane departed soon after, though the leg-before decision seemed harsh, as the ball looked to be skidding down the legside.

From there, it was just about Saha and his nuggety resilience, as Mark Steketee kept removing his partners one after the other to complete a five-for. The Indian wicketkeeper soaked up 100 balls and stroked seven boundaries, in what was a steely performance that would offer considerable relief to India’s team management. In the company of last man Kartik Tyagi, he counter-attacked efficiently, totalling 39 runs of the 46 runs they combined. Though it’s unlikely that Rishabh Pant would supersede him, Saha seems hell-bent on making every opportunity count to assert his first-choice wicket-keeper status.

Later with the ball, the Indians managed just the wicket of Joe Burns, bowled for a duck by Umesh Yadav, and concussing Will Pucovski, as Australia A completed the day at 52/1.

Brief Scores: Indians 247/9 dec and 189/9 dec (Saha 54*, Steketee 5-37) drew with Australia A 306/9 dec and 52/1.

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