Though beaten, Australia were positive in approach
India's eight-wicket win over Australia in the opening Test in Chennai was a well-deserved success. Sachin Tendulkar coming to the fore with a solid knock of 81 in the first innings and being not out and finishing the job in the second is a very good sign for the team. If Tendulkar's batting brought India closer to Australia's first-innings total, it was Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni who took the game away from the visitors. In the bowling department, India were head and shoulders above their opposition. R Ashwin looked at ease on his home turf and finished with 12 wickets and was well supported by his other two spin buddies. Against this, Australia didn't stand much of a chance once India succeeded in taking a sizeable lead.
Australia definitely lacked spin options and this was very evident, especially when Dhoni joined Kohli at the crease with India 196 for 4 and still 184 behind. At that moment the game was wide open and tilted in favour of the Aussies. Going into the Test with Nathan Lyon as the only specialist spinner was always going to be a gamble on such a fast deteriorating pitch. Michael Clarke rightly had catchers around the bat to apply pressure, but failed to judge Dhoni's mindset initially. With no one deep in the field, Dhoni confidently went over the top and had quite a few runs to his name before the Australian skipper realised what was happening. This battle of the minds was clearly and comprehensively won by Dhoni and it set the tone for the rest of his innings. With no other specialist spin bowling option and with the areas of the pitch where the fast bowlers landed the ball being comparatively unaffected, the Indian duo didn't have to worry much about uneven bounce while facing the faster bowlers.
Though Australia lost the first Test by a big margin, there are a few things they did even before the sun rose on match day, that showcase how positive they were in their approach to the game. The fact that they announced their playing eleven two days in advance spoke volumes about their clarity of mind as a unit. Most teams have a core group of players who are sure to start in the eleven. For a few who are not getting time to prepare before a game is very dear. Most battles that one encounters before and during a Test match are in one's own mind. So if you have time to clear your mind before a game, it makes it possible to enter some sort of a comfort zone. Most teams announce their starting eleven the previous evening or at times on the day of the game. This is far too less a time to settle the mind; doubly so if you are a debutant.
This two-day advance notice afforded Moises Henriques ample time to prepare for his big day in Test cricket. Even if you have played international cricket before making your Test debut, it doesn't help prepare you for that big day. With so many years spent chasing a dream of one day playing Test cricket, when the day dawns and your dream is transforming into reality, it does have the strength to unsettle the mind. Henriques's mind never looked unsettled. In fact he looked positively calm. And this calmness of mind was evident in the preparedness that Henriques displayed as he walked up to the crease to bat for the first time ever in a Test match. His 68 in the first innings and a fighting 81 not out in the second, on a difficult pitch, on foreign soil, showed that he has used those few days before the game to prepare well. In the first innings he walked in with his team five down for 153 and in the second when they were five down 121. On both occasions he never looked intimidated and seemed calm and self reliant throughout.
A few changes are possible on both sides for the second Test at Hyderabad. India will be mulling a change in the opening pair and also if they want to replace a seamer with Pragyan Ojha, especially if the pitch is in any way similar to the one in Chennai. For Australia, it's important to add a spinner to the line up if they are to give themselves a better chance at winning the Test.
When England toured late last year, they too went in with just one spinner for the Ahmedabad Test. Keeping Monty Panesar on the bench proved a costly mistake. After Monty's inclusion the bowling had a different and positive look to it. Though Australia don't have someone like Panesar, it is crucial for them to have another specialist spin option. The Australian fightback happened too late to affect the result in the first Test, but the way Lyon bowled in the second inning will be heartening to Clarke and the team management. He showed greater consistency in line, length and accuracy. With James Pattinson at the top of his game and bowling superbly and Peter Siddle bowling disciplined stuff, Clarke along with his team will back themselves to the hilt at Hyderabad.
More about Hrishikesh Kanitkar
Hrishikesh Kanitkar is a former Test and ODI player for India, and a veteran batsman on the domestic cricket circuit. He captained Rajasthan to consecutive Ranji Trophy titles in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
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