The loudest cheer of the day came shortly after the lunch break. Several members of Australia’s support staff, led by batting coach Justin Langer, crowded a couple of laptop computers, listening in rapt attention to commentary streamed over the internet.
Even as Simon Katich and Shane Watson provided a stable backdrop out in the middle, each scoring hundreds and grinding out the Board President’s XI attack at the Sector 16 Stadium, the Aussie contingent was absorbed in football action back home. The AFL Grand Final, which ended in a tie, with Collingwood and St Kilda scoring 68 apiece, was the high point of excitement on a day when the Australians ticked all the boxes they could, reaching 319 for one.
In the room next to the Aussie group, however, five men gathered would hardly have had much to cheer about. The national selection committee was represented in full, itself a rare occurrence in Indian cricket. Given that the team for the forthcoming two-Test series has already been picked, there was little motivation for the bowlers, and this seemed to have an impact on how things went. The selectors, who have long-term plans in mind, especially next year’s World Cup, would not have liked what they saw.
Sreesanth, mounting yet another comeback, threatened to show signs of form, but was not consistent enough, spraying the ball both sides of the wicket.
Bowling in four spells, each less threatening than the previous, Sreesanth struggled for rhythm, and, given his recent run with injury, you couldn’t help wonder if he was saving himself for the Test series ahead. Umesh Yadav, who looked so impressive in the nets, bowled a heavy ball once more, but a lack of purpose and a less-than-fresh wicket ensured he was easily negated.
Eighteen-year-old Jaidev Unadkat was the one bowling bright spot on the day, consistently shaping the ball in to the right-handed batsmen. But the youngster, playing his maiden first-class match on home soil, still has a long way to go before he can be considered a genuine prospect for the India colours.
As pace gave way to spin, starting in the 19th over, when Piyush Chawla was introduced, things only got easier for Katich and Watson. Comfortable at the crease throughout his two-session stay, Katich brought up his 51st first-class hundred before retiring out to give his teammates a chance. Watson went past three figures soon after, and proceeded to donate his wicket to Chawla at 115 amidst a flurry of strokes that clearly indicated he’d had enough.
The final piece of the Board President’s XI bowling design, left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, was used in such a defensive role that rarely was the Australian batsmen put to test.
The Australians walked off the field after their first day on this crucial tour perfectly content, for everything went as planned. The Indians, however, will be worried about how they’re going to pick up 20 wickets when the Tests come around.