The three-day practice game for Australia against the Board President’s XI, ahead of the first Test at Mohali, was a mixed bag for the visitors. Shane Watson emerged as a visible hero, with attacking tons in both the innings. There were other positives as well. Watson’s opening partner Simon Katich as well as Marcus North also registering hundreds in the first innings. However, the prime concern for them will remain the performance of their spinners as they head into the major battle.
Nathan Hauritz picked up a solitary wicket going for close to hundred runs – both innings combined. Even more worrying was the fact that Piyush Chawla, who can bat a bit but is a bowler by profession, took him to the cleaners with ease. He charged down the pitch and dealt with the tweaker with minimum ill-ease. Then, when BP XI batted for a second time, Ajinkya Rahane was all at ease against him as he raced to a quickfire century.
The only consolation for Hauritz can be the fact that Jason Krejza was treated with similar disrespect two years back in the practice game, but got his act right when it mattered, claiming eight wickets on Test debut. Meanwhile, it was a similar story for Hauritz’s leg-spinning partner Steven Smith, who was treated with even more utter disdain. Chawla was especially severe on him and the leggie ended up conceded nearly six runs per over. Also, when BP XI batted a second time round, the Aussie bowlers were far from effective. Both Rahane and opening partner Cheteshwar Pujara, who is part of the Test squad, helped themselves to some substantial batting practice as they ended the game on a unexpected high, after being pulverized on day one.
The picture wasn’t completely gloomy for Australia though. Before Chawla’s heroics, their bowling was top class. Ben Hilfenhaus, in particular, was exceptionally good while Mitchell Johnson impressed as well. The Aussies would also have been heartened to see Peter George bowl well and claim a couple of scalps. That said, they would have been delighted had they put a better performance with both the ball and the willow in their second essay.
Apart from practice, the match also gave both sides injury scares. Gautam Gambhir took a blow on his right hand from Bill Hilfenhaus while batting and rightly preferred to stay away from the field of play on the final day. India will desperately need his services alongside Virender Sehwag for the Tests and one-dayers. For Australia, Katich, who hurt his thumb, did not bat in his team’s second innings while North, who had a back problem also did the same. Both teams would hope that there is nothing serious, and that they can resume their duties starting October 1.
While on the Test series, India would go in with a slight advantage considering the wealth in their batting strength. However, even a weakened Australian side cannot be underestimated. Expect them to make up for their lack of firepower with that much added determination. One only hopes the series can live up to the billing, unlike the damp squib of 2008.
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