A timely, confidence-boosting hit out for Murali Vijay on Day 4 gave India a reason to smile after a stressful Day 3 that saw their most in-form opener Prithvi Shaw being carried off the field and later get ruled out of the first Test against Australia.
The precarious position left India with just two available openers – Vijay and KL Rahul – with the former recently losing his spot in the side after an abysmal tour of England where he managed 26 runs across four innings [including a pair at Lord’s].
But a successful County stint brought him to Australia as the reserve opener, and a lengthy hit out across two sessions on Saturday (December 1) makes him a reassuring option at the top, rather than one borne out of circumstance. To add to India’s cheers, KL Rahul too took the opportunity and made amends after a cheap dismissal to a very loose stroke in the first innings and scored a brisk half-century too.
Interestingly, CA XI’s 19-year-old pacer Aaron Hardie – who is yet to play a first class game but bagged four wickets in the first innings – wasn’t thrown the ball in the second, as the India openers comfortably negotiated the rest, driving and cutting their way through. There was a sense of fluency to the strokes played by both the Indian batters as they manoeuvred the team past 100 without too much trouble – except one occasion when right-arm pacer Aaron Summers pinged Vijay on the glove with a sharp bouncer. From Vijay’s reaction, it seemed like a stinging blow to his fingers but wasn’t severe enough to force him off the field.
Rahul cruised to a half-century and was looking on course for a three-figure score, when another familiar lapse of concentration led him to a poor shot selection and eventually his exit. Rahul fell for a 98-ball 62 – with eight fours and six – after having flicked a full toss from D’Arcy Short to Max Bryant at mid-wicket.
In what could’ve been a show of cards from India as far as team combinations go, Hanuma Vihari walked out to bat at No.3 and saw off the little time left unscathed. The consideration to have Vihari in the plans for the final XI for the Tests also stems from the fact that he can roll his arm over for some gentle off-spin and give his four front line bowlers [possibly three quicks and a spinner] some time to cool off between spells.
It was in Vihari’s company, that Vijay brought up a century – in a rather entertaining fashion. The otherwise classical opener went from 74 to 100 in the space of six deliveries from Jake Carder – smashing three fours and a couple of sixes. The shots didn’t stop with Vijay reaching the three-figure milestone, as he also targetted Short, before being bowled by Daniel Fallins for a 132-ball 129.
“It [Australian pitches] suits my game. I am a batsman who likes to play on the backfoot and Australia is one place where you get the bounce. Coming from India… you can come here and explore the shots which you’ve been keeping in your kit. You can get it out here,” Vijay said at the end of a good day’s outing.
But what ended well didn’t necessarily begin so for India. Hardie hoped to carry forward his Day 3 luck when he polished off India’s first innings with four scalps and then proceeded to score an undefeated half-century, as he and Harry Nielsen found run-making coming rather easily to them in the morning session. Hardie would only add 17 runs to his overnight score of 69 but Nielsen went on to make a fine century as CA XI swiftly built up a big lead. Indian bowlers were further deflated by contributions from the lower-order – an aspect of the game that cost them dearly in England too – as Daniel Fallins (43), Luke Robins (38) and Jackson Coleman (36) all helped swell the lead.
Kohli tried all sorts of bowling options and eventually ended up dismissing the centurion Nielsen himself. At 454 for 8, India should’ve wrapped the innings up but were left frustrated by the tail. Even from 487 for 9, CA XI somehow found a way to forge one last partnership to keep the Indian team on the field for longer than they’d have hoped. After lunch, Kohli had to bring in Kuldeep Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah, who hadn’t bowled in the game thus far, to find a breach. It took the speedster seven deliveries to get one yorker past the bat and onto the stumps of Coleman. CA XI finished with 544 and a lead of 186, which India wiped out by stumps.
Brief scores: Indians 358 (Prithvi Shaw 66, Virat Kohli 64, Ajinkya Rahane 56, Cheteshwar Pujara 54, Hanuma Vihari 53; Aaron Hardie 4-50) & 211/2 (Murali Vijay 129, KL Rahul 62) drew with Cricket Australia XI 544/6 (Harry Nielsen 100, Aaron Hardie 86, D’Arcy Short 74, Max Bryant 62; Mohammed Shami 3-97, Ravichandran Ashwin 2-122).