There was no Tendulkar in this tour game. Just a couple of youngsters, touted to be the Tendulkars - or any such great cricketers of the future. Yet, it has been ten years since an Australian side looked as listless as they did in the 1998 game against Mumbai, when the little master had mesmerised the tourists with some dazzling stroke-play and helped his first class team race to a ten wicket win
There was no Tendulkar in this tour game. Just a couple of youngsters, touted to be the Tendulkars - or any such great cricketers of the future. Yet, it has been ten years since an Australian side looked as listless as they did in the 1998 game against Mumbai, when the little master had mesmerised the tourists with some dazzling stroke-play and helped his first class team race to a ten wicket win. In two and a half days that is.
On this occasion though, the visitors escaped with a draw against a side that could be termed as the second XI of India. And with my tongue firmly in my cheek, I must add that they were lucky to do so. They need to thank a last wicket stand between Michael Hussey and Stuart Clark for this one, which went on to add 96 runs after being more than 230 runs behind at one stage!
For starters, the difference in the starting XIs of the two teams was too blatant to be missed. Australia went in with five frontline bowlers, while team from India played Irfan Pathan as their fourth, apart from the two spinners and a greenhorn in Manpreet Gony! This is a probable insight into the minds of the visitors, who still seem to have enough confidence in their willow-wielders, but not so much with the men who would need to scalp the twenty wickets to win it for them.
Talking of the home team's batting, I must admit that the surprise was very palpable on my face, when the news had filtered in that Virat Kohli had been selected for the ODIs for Sri Lanka. This was at the back of a very ordinary IPL, and just a knock or two at the Emerging Players' tournament in Australia. Yet, what would have worked in his favour then, was the presence of the national selector, Dilip Vengsarkar, who would have seen that spark of brilliance in him. Quite a few had been critical of the ease with which the Indian cap had been doled out to a youngster.
Watching him bat in Sri Lanka, and now against Australia, one needs to compliment the former selector on his move. There is no doubting the fact that the confidence is back, and so is the spring in the Kohli-stride. He looked like a matured product, playing each ball on its merit, yet, seemingly talented enough to convert the good ones into the not-so. At the other end, Rohit Sharma's Mark Waugh-like grace finally came through as well, and would hold him in good stead after a string of disappointing scores. His style was tinged with a touch of savage, as he took on anything that could have remotely been termed as loose. Such is the effortlessness in his batting, that when Sharma does go onto play a longish inning, the talent oozes like there is no tomorrow, but an early dismissal leads to a totally contrasting reaction, a sense of disappointment, a what-if-he-had-lasted-longer feeling.
The third centurion of the match for BP XI was Yuvraj Singh. Dropped from the Indian test squad after an indifferent few months at the top, the going looked good for him in the first essay, before his former nemesis, Mitchell Johnson out-thought and forced him into playing a rash stroke. Not the second time around though, as Yuvraj looked like he had got into that 'zone' that most batsmen vie for. He treated the good and the bad balls without bias, and was particularly severe on one Jason Krejza.
Krejza is the one man that many an Indian fan and expert have been wanting to have a look at with bated breath. More importantly, he would have been under the microscope of the Australian team management, given that the other slow bowler in the team, Bryce McGain's test career seems to have ended even before it had begun. Spiked drinks or otherwise, one look at Krejza's figures - 31 overs for 199 runs without a wicket - and one could have been pardoned into thinking that he was a 'net-bowler' rolling his arm over at the Indians. Yet, one almost got the feeling that the BP XI had been assigned a clear mandate to not allow the off-spinner to settle down, thus paving way for more anxiety and nerves if he did make his debut in the first test match. He did not bowl too badly to begin with, but the kind of mood the batsmen were in, anything marginally short or full found its way to the boundary, either off the carpet, or over it. This seemed to have affected the confidence of the John Emburey-like bowling of the offie, and the hitting got more ferocious, even as Yuvraj Singh, not regarded as the best Indian batsman of spin, scythed through the bowler. His analysis soon bore a sorry picture, and did not look any more effective than Emburey had against the Indians in his career.
So much so, that even the normally, almost-'unentertaining' Wasim Jaffer reverse swept the bowler for a couple of boundaries! And also so much so that the Australian Board had to send an SOS to Ponting, with an instruction to 'handle him with care', during the course of the match! Krejza can probably take heart from the fact that even the great Shane Warne had been carted around by the likes of Ravi Shastri and Tendulkar on his debut, yet went on be what he did. Whether Krejza would be Australia's call for the next big spinner of the nation seems to be a longer shot than Warne himself making a comeback to international cricket.
This, though, makes a couple of other things very clear. For starters, if Krejza - or Cameron White who is McGain's replacement - did make it to the starting XI - and that by itself is a big question mark - Ricky Ponting would definitely want to have Shane Watson bowl quite a few overs. Secondly, Michael Clarke and Simon Katich would have a bigger role to play apart than their batting alone, and that would be to do with their left-arm spin. For some undisclosed reasons, Clarke has been not been too effective yet, while it has been a while since Katich had a reasonable spell with the cherry, making the Australian spin department look more barren by the day.
Down to the last day of the match, there are two ways of looking at Yuvraj's late declaration. One is with a critical point of view; what with the chance to declare earlier and get the Aussies in, with a probability of even winning the match. Difficult, when one considers that the earliest he could have called his batsmen in was with around 70 overs to go. Personally, I would have not even thought of giving any more scope of batting practice for the visitors. After all the hospitality showered upon the men from Down Under at Jaipur, it would have sufficed for their bowlers to battle the heat and yet, not have had enough match batting practice on tracks that assist spin. For me, Yuvraj missed a trick or two here, as it gave Ponting the opportunity to dig in, face up to Chawla, and get used to the turning ball. With Brad Haddin having taken a blow to his finger, Hussey had to don the wicket-keeping gloves, and it would have made even more sense to bat on, and tire the visitors out further. The first inning had incidentally seen Hussey being the only Aussie batsman to have come to grips with the pitch, but Ponting's fifty in the second would have given him hope as well.
And in the end, a word on Yuvraj's captaincy. It did not seem as flashy as the batsman himself, yet it was not too defensive. Probably, it is too early to even start thinking about the same, but he definitely looked one of the others in the team; even seeming considerably laidback at times. It was quite polarised to what one saw in the IPL when he had led his team to a victory against the Mumbai Indians. Probably, it was just another first class fixture for the southpaw from Chandigarh.