An important part of the warm-up match between India A and Australia ahead of the highly-anticipated Border Gavaskar Trophy was that it was granted first-class status. Unlike India’s recent overseas tours where we have witnessed glorified center-wicket practice sessions as warm-up games, this was a genuine test ahead of the real Test.
And a testament to how hard-fought the match was that a result was still possible in the final session. Neither side took the game lightly, and till the final ball was bowled on day three at Drummoyne Oval, it felt like neither team took the foot off the pedal.
In case you missed the action over the last three days, here’s what we learned from the match from India’s point of view:
India A playing XI: Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (c), Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Md. Siraj, Kartik Tyagi
Australia A playing XI: Australia A: Joe Burns, Will Pucovski, Marcus Harris, Travis Head (c), Cameron Green, Nic Maddinson, Tim Paine (wk), James Pattinson, Michael Neser, Mark Steketee, Jackson Bird
- While there were suggestions that Mayank Agarwal and Jasprit Bumrah / Mohammed Shami might feature in this match, both of them were rested completely from both T20Is and this red-ball practice.
- One of India’s immediate team selection headaches is getting the opening combination right for the Adelaide Test but both Gill and Shaw didn’t do their case any favours, both out for 0 inside the first three overs. Neither delivery was particularly threatening as Gill got an inside edge on to the pads that looped up while Shaw, not for the first time, was caught at the crease playing away from his body at a delivery he could have easily left.
- Playing for the first time in a competitive match since the Ranji Trophy final in March, Pujara looked at his solid best in the first innings. After starting with a flurry of boundaries, he went back to doing what he does best. He barely gave any chances against a good bowling attack on a lively first-day pitch. But, interestingly, Head (with Paine’s inputs presumably) targetted Pujara down the leg-side: there was a catching position behind square, a silly mid-on and leg gully at various points, the last of which ended up being the reason for Pujara’s downfall. It’s a strategy we might see more of in the Tests.
- As he often does, Rahane looked shaky in the early part of his innings. In one Green over, he got an outside edge that fell short of first slip, got beaten again next ball, followed that up with a cover drive for four and then was completely squared up by another length ball as another edge fell short of Paine. But from that point on, he looked compact, and played an innings that should fill him with confidence ahead of a massive summer for him. A six over third man to reach his half century was a special shot.
- If indeed Ashwin is India’s first-choice spinner, his drastic downward slide as a batsman in the red-ball format is a concern. He looks like a shadow of the batsman who has four Test centuries to his name.
- There is a good chance that Pucovski (if he recovers in time from the blow he received on the helmet on day three) and Burns could be the opening pair for the hosts in Adelaide and it should give immense confidence to Umesh that he picked up their wickets. While the former’s wicket was a gift of sorts, the delivery to dismiss Burns was a peach that reared up from a good length. It was everything that is good about Umesh, who bowled a fiery opening spell of 7-3-9-2. With his coaches Ravi Shastri and Bharat Arun watching on from the sidelines, the 33-year-old did his case for being the third seamer a lot of good.
- Siraj was unlucky to not have more wickets against his name, because of a combination of ill-luck, poor catching and bad umpiring decisions over the course of two innings. His return was almost as good as Umesh’s but given the latter was a bit more threatening against the top order batsmen and has more experience, a Test debut seems unlikely just yet for Siraj.
- Ashwin was an important part of India’s win in Adelaide last time around, holding one end up in a defensive role while the pacers went to work from the other in the second innings. But he has had troubles finishing overseas series’ as a fit bowler in recent times and the team management would have kept an eye on his match-sharpness. From the signs on display on day two, where he bowled an impressive 14-over first spell, Ashwin looks fit and in good rhythm. He was menacing as ever against the left-handers too, picking up the wickets of Harris and Maddinson. On the field, while he looked hampered in the IPL, his movements seemed better as well.
- But the big concern for India? An impressive young allrounder in the early stages of his red-ball career proving to be a thorn in the flesh with the bat lower down the order. We have seen that before, alright. While Green was superb for the Aussies, he was helped by poor catching as Vihari put down a sitter at second slip and later Saha missed a chance he would normally take. India cannot afford missed opportunities against the likes of Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne.
- Granted, they played some attractive shots. Granted, they hung around for longer than just three overs combined. But it was baffling to see Shaw and Gill go for their shots like they were chasing a target in a T20 when all they had to do was bat time and show the temperament to spend time in the middle. No one doubts their stroke-making abilities, but to be dismissed playing away from the body, to reckless and avoidable shots, and not applying themselves to spend time in the middle, must be a source of huge frustration for the Indian management. As things stand, neither really impressed.
India A openers in this match:
Shubman Gill: 0 (1 balls), 29 (24 balls)
Prithvi Shaw: 0 (8 balls), 19 (31 balls)
- Enter Hanuma Vihari. Having already opened once for India in Australia at the MCG no less, should he be considered seriously for partnering Agarwal again? Facing a relatively new ball in both the innings, Vihari once again showed he has good skill even if he is not the most free-scoring batsman. But given the stroke players around him, a batsman who is willing to buckle down is perhaps a better asset for India. With 15 off 51 in the first innings and 28 off 67 in the second, Vihari might not have too many runs to show for his efforts but he spent valuable time in the middle.
- For a batsman of his quality, Pujara has a tendency to be bowled by a length delivery a bit too often. While Neser did bowl a peach, this is something that you’d think Pujara must address.
- There were three scores of zero in India’s first innings (among the batsmen), and while Gill and Shaw did little to improve their fortunes in the second, Saha showed why he is highly rated as a lower order batsman by Virat Kohli. Make no mistake, at 127/6 and 143/9, India A were in real danger of losing this match. But Saha played an innings that summed up his grit and determination, while also showing sparks of strokeplay that we saw in the IPL, and if indeed he is preferred over Rishabh Pant for the first Test, he showed why he can be a handy asset in a moment of crisis.