Visiting teams generally view warm-up matches as games that give them practice, but in India’s case, they also got scares and reality checks, like an unwanted 1+2 offer. Inferences from the three-day game were aplenty. We delve into a few of them as we build-up to the all-important Tests.
The Border Gavaskar Trophy will pretty much rest on Pujara and Rahane
If it wasn’t clear already, the three days at the Drummoyne Oval gave it away. Badly. On a testing wicket against an almost world-class attack, Rahane convincingly looked the best batsman across both sides, while Pujara, who was dismissed for a duck in the second by an absolute peach, showcased shades of his 2018-self in his half-century in innings one. The duo looked multiple levels above every other Indian batsman. Or, to phrase it differently, they looked like the only batters capable of absorbing pressure and withstanding a tough challenge. Take it how you may, but the numbers next to Pujara and Rahane’s names will decide who wins the Tests. Don’t be surprised if the two find themselves cleaning up the mess made by the batsmen around them in every single Test.
Hanuma Vihari has hunger and he ‘wants’ to succeed
Hanuma Vihari, much to his and the team’s disappointment, might have failed to kick-on and convert his starts, but there was a moment in the second innings that defined what he’s made of. After narrowly avoiding gloving a miscalculated pull shot off Steketee, Vihari smacked his helmet in disgust, realizing that he was an inch away from throwing his wicket. It was an indicator that he valued his wicket, and wanted to succeed badly, unlike many of his compatriots. Across both innings, the right-hander looked composed, in control, and did a fine job in helping India wrestle back initiative after the loss of early momentum. Vihari also, in a way, put his hand-up for filling the Kohli-shaped void at No.4 for the last three Tests. It is important for him to make his starts count, but it is equally important for India to give him time; he certainly showed that he warrants it.
India can forget banking on getting runs from Ashwin - and those below him
It is no longer just a fear; it is now a reality. Ravichandran Ashwin’s batting looks to have degraded to the extent that he is now inferior to Umesh Yadav. Across both the innings at Drummoyne Oval, the ex all-rounder seemed to have forgotten how to bat, getting out to rather ordinary deliveries which he perhaps would have negated say five years ago. Maybe Ponting exactly knew what he was doing when he sent Rabada out to bat ahead of Ashwin for the Capitals. With Ashwin set to be a certain starter thanks to Jadeja’s uncertain fitness, what this effectively means is that India are looking at potentially getting no runs from their last four batsmen, regardless of who they choose to play. Lack of runs from their tail hurt India badly in the previous SENA cycle; early signs, but the woe looks set to continue.
Not opening, catching is the single biggest concern
Bumrah, Shami, and Umesh could end up having the series of their lives, but if India continue catching (read: dropping) the way they have been, a whitewash will be inevitable regardless of what the bowlers do. Three regulation catches, sitters, were put down across the two innings and two of the spills proved to be very costly as Cameron Green made the visitors pay by cashing in. Barring Rahane and Pujara, India seem to have no reliable catchers, and, worse yet, look pretty clueless as to who will slot in where. Neither of Shaw, Vihari, and Gill seem to be conventional slip-catchers, and this could potentially prove to be series-defining. The last thing India would need would be dropping Smith or Labuschagne after inflicting an outside edge, you’d imagine.
Mohammad Siraj is ready to make the leap forward
Umesh Yadav, understandably, made the headlines for skittling out Australia A’s top-order, but equally impressive with the ball was Mohammad Siraj. The right-armer hit the perfect lengths on a relatively spicy Drummoyne Oval wicket that offered plenty of bounce and troubled all batsmen from 1 to 11 with his seam and swing. That Siraj can do damage with the new cherry is something we’ve known for long but his extended spells coming back in the middle overs were a standout. He would, and should, in fact, have had the prized scalp of Cam Green next to his name, but Saha spilling a regulation dolly denied him a fourth. In the absence of Ishant, India look likely to go the Umesh route for the third seamer, but Siraj showed that he is ready, and will be a weapon and a half in these conditions which are tailor-made for his style.
Management need to take a leap of faith with regards to Agarwal’s opening partner
Shaw? Gill? Rahul? Vihari? It is absurd that India still have little idea as to who will partner Mayank Agarwal come the first Test, despite having played a three-day warm-up game. The first warm-up game was supposed to give a clearer idea but if anything, it has compounded the problems and has given the management more headaches. What’s evident, however, is that regardless of who they pick, it will be a gamble. Gill and Shaw look lost, unsure as to how to build an innings, while Rahul, despite his prodigious white-ball form, will not guarantee success. Vihari can be used as a solidifier, but that will in turn weaken the middle-order, for which the options are limited. The pink-ball warm-up at the SCG, one feels, will give away who Mayank’s partner will be, but regardless of who it is, the Aussies will fancy their chances against that mystery person.