Three openers, two keepers, four pacers. No spinners. No Virat Kohli. No Cheteshwar Pujara. No KL Rahul. As was evident from the playing XIs for India’s second tour game – the only one with a pink ball was announced – it was clear that the team management were singling out the areas they still aren’t sure of ahead of the first Test.
They weren’t sure of who will partner Mayank Agarwal as the second opener, Wriddhiman Saha was impressive in the first tour game but they wanted to test out Rishabh Pant who is their preferred overseas gloveman and finally, they probably wanted to see how Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj bowl with the pink ball.
But the answers they so dearly sought didn’t exactly come by in the way they expected. Batting first, India were bowled out for 194 and in reply, Australia A were bowled out for 108. Twenty wickets fell in just over 80 overs, and the top scorer on the day was Jasprit Bumrah.
For India, Agarwal was the first player to be dismissed but Shaw and Gill then set about hammering the Aussie attack into submission. Some might call it fearless but most would term it reckless. Still, for a while, it looked like it was working and it was thrilling.
There were edges interspersed with great looking strokes as India sped to 72 (after just 8.4 overs) when at the end of a mad over, Shaw perished. The right-hander (40 off 29 balls) had already hammered three fours in the Will Sutherland over when the gap between his bat and pad was exploited by a big inswinger.
The innings both highlighted the temptation of picking Shaw and the obvious flaw in his approach. At the moment, it is hard to see him bat for more than an hour and most teams will want more than that from an opener.
At the other end, Gill started off with a flurry of boundaries as well but he eventually settled down into a more convincing rhythm in the company of Hanuma Vihari. He showed he could play his shots and also showed that he trusted his defence – at least more than Shaw does.
Vihari looked comfortable doing what he always does – leaving the ball well, defending with great calm but then he misjudged a leave and was clean bowled by Wildermuth.
At this point, India were 102/3 but they were soon reduced to 123/9. The batting was poor and the bowling was good – together, an irresistible combination and one that would not have pleased the Indian team management in the slightest.
Gill, it must be said, looked better than Shaw. It was an impressive innings and he looks like he has a lot more to offer. The delivery that got him eventually was a good one, it surprised him with the bounce and, to his credit, he did not throw his wicket away.
Captain Ajinkya Rahane remonstrated himself as he walked back, after playing at a ball way wider than sixth stump. Saha and Pant too did not make a mark.
There was respite when Bumrah, who hit a delightful 55 (off 57 balls) to top-score for the Indian team, and Mohammad Siraj (22 runs off 34 balls) put on 71 runs for the final wicket but the poor batting effort against what is essentially a third-string bowling line-up will lend an uneasy feeling to the build-up for the first Test on December 17.
Bumrah showed the will to stay in the middle that many in the top order didn’t and perhaps his innings might drive home that point to the batsmen too. India finished with 194. Not a big total but it at least gave the bowlers something to bowl at.
Even before Bumrah and Shami got the new ball, it was interesting to see Pant don the wicket-keeping gloves. In the past, the team management have indicated that Pant is the keeper for overseas tours but the left-hander’s batting form has been iffy of late and Saha has been on the rise.
Bumrah struck early – with his second ball – to send back the out-of-from Joe Burns but then struggled for a bit to find his best length. It was just a little bit shorter than his usual Test match length to begin with but he soon started trying to make the adjustment before rain forced the players off the field.
The ball started doing a lot more after the break and under the lights. Shami, in particular, got his line and length just right and reaped the rewards too.
India’s bowling on Day 1
Shami - 3/29
Bumrah - 2/33
Siraj - 1/26
Saini - 3/19
The Australia A batsmen didn’t help their cause but the confidence of this Indian bowling line-up was clear. They found the right line and length soon and this period under lights will be vital in the first Test as well.
Saini came on as the fourth seamer and he hit the straps right away. He kept it straight, made the batsmen play and picked up three wickets in quick time.
Siraj looked good as well and it is a bit of a shame to not see how good Umesh Yadav might have been under the lights.
Aus A were bowled out for 108, giving India a lead of 86 runs and that was when stumps were drawn.
Day two will once again place the focus on India’s batting. The top-order will have to show a lot more resolve than they did on today. The ball, as they say, is in their court.