The venue was picturesque and close to a couple of thousands, including many Indians, had turned up to see India in action on the opening day of the three-day match against an Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Invitational XI.
For a beleaguered team it was a great chance to return to cricket after a surfeit of controversies and also an opportunity to let the batsmen who haven’t got going so far have a decent stay in the middle.
The Manuka Oval pitch was not ideal in terms of preparation for what lies ahead in the sense that it was different from the bouncy one expected in Perth come Wednesday and one could hardly call the bowling line-up an ‘attack’ for its sheer lack of sting.
That the Indians still lost nine wickets in 84 overs before declaring on Thursday was cause for concern. More so, because the ones short on chances or runs like Virender Sehwag, Dinesh Karthik, Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, failed despite coming in when the ball had lost its shine and was not doing anything.
Wasim Jaffer made 92 but apart from the time he spent in the middle, even he wouldn’t be delighted with what the day yielded. Rahul Dravid too helped himself to a half-century and even though it wouldn’t count as a first-class one because the teams decided to field 12 players each (just 11 can bat and field though), he could at least afford a chuckle because it came batting in the middle-order.
Dhoni chose to bat after India rested V.V.S. Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble and all eyes were on Sehwag who opened with Jaffer. Things were vastly unusual with the former leaving the ball more often than trying to blast it and the latter slashing it for a six over point.
Sehwag’s old folly returned soon after the hour-mark when he launched himself into a heave through the covers without getting to the line and he might consider himself a little unlucky as well to see Mark Higgs pull off an unbelievable catch at second slip. Still, the way he batted was far from inspiring. In all probabilities, his selection for this tour is going to remain a blunder, perhaps as big as the ones committed by the umpires in Sydney.
India’s other opening option came in next and although he tried to be positive, Karthik’s stay in the middle was not convincing either. He did drive a few fluently, but like Sehwag, impetuosity let him down when he made a hash of a pull from well outside off, ballooning a catch to mid-on.
The next partnership featuring Jaffer and Dravid was the most productive but it has to be remembered that a bulk of the runs the two added came against a set of spinners who in all probability wouldn’t make the cut in Ranji Trophy. Leg-spinner Ryan Bulger was almost comic and struggled to even pitch the ball and Higgs was only slightly better with his left-arm stuff, struggling with direction. They were so tempting that even the normally defensive duo started hitting over the top and one such shot undid Jaffer, who miscued one and holed out to long-on. Yuvraj couldn’t have a better chance to redeem himself but after scratching around for 15 balls, he failed to get on top of a shortish one and lobbed a catch to point.
After a circumspect start, Dravid had played himself in and his again was a soft dismissal as he reached far too forward and followed left-arm seamer Ash Perera’s natural angle to edge one to the keeper. Dhoni was threatening to clobber the attack before closing the face of his bat early and spooning one back to Higgs.
Against a team which has just three players with some experience in the top-flight of Australian first-class cricket including Test aspirant Chris Rogers, 325 for nine was a below-par effort given the nature of the pitch where there was not much carry once the ball lost shine. It’s up to the bowlers now to ensure that India take some positives from the game.