For the first three days of the first Test between India and Australia in Chennai, R Ashwin, Michael Clarke and MS Dhoni took the top honours. Even on the fourth day, Ashwin's second five-for of the Test to dismantle the Australians promises to be the talk of the day. At one point India were just one wicket away from victory and the match would not have gone into the final day at all, if not for Moises Henriques.
Ashwin tortured the Australian batting line-up in hot and humid conditions. However, batting on a different planet, Henriques soaked in the pressure to become the first player batting at No. 7 or lower to score fifties in both innings of a Test debut. For both Henriques and Ashwin, this match is a career-defining one. After the debacle against England, where Ashwin's wicket-abilities were questioned, the offspinner has redeemed himself with this fantastic performance. In fact, he became the only Indian to bag a ten-wicket haul at home.
For Henriques, to be part of the playing XI was a distant dream with the build up to the marquee series surrounding the IPL's new 'million dollar baby' Glenn Maxwell and the leg spinning allrounder Steve Smith. If it was not for Andrew McDonald's injury the New South Wales player would not have even boarded the plane to the subcontinent. But the 26-year-old earned his place and a debut for Australia on the back of good performances in the two warm-up games. Touted to be the next big thing of Australian cricket, Henriques was never quite able to live up the expectations but in Chennai he sure did show the world why he was so hyped about.
The Australian allrounder, on debut in Chennai, scored fighting half-centuries in both innings to vindicate the decision to pick him ahead of Glenn Maxwell and Steve Smith.
Playing his debut innings alongside Michael Clarke, Henriques put a price tag on his wicket and lent marvellous support to his skipper. In the second innings he went a step further and guided the tail to help his team avoid an innings defeat. But how did this debutant overcome the odds which the top-order failed to even understand?
The key was application. Henriques showed composure to stick to the basics of playing the ball on its merit. He was not random in his shot selection, which the Australian top order was guilty of. David Warner and Ed Cowan were uncertain and unable to pick the length of the spinners, while Mathew Wade employed the sweep far too often as his bail-me-out shot. Even an experienced pro like Shane Watson failed to apply himself.
Henriques was solid off both the front foot and back foot and didn't fail to pounce on to the loose deliveries. He played late to the short deliveries, thus allowing them to spin and played them on their value. He was unperturbed by the variations thrown at him from both ends. Ashwin was slower though the air, allowing the ball to bounce and rise up to the batsman, whereas Ravindra Jadeja was assisted by the sharp turn he got from the rough. Another plus for Henriques in both innings was he that he picked up the length early whereas the Australian top order appeared uncertain. Making his Test debut on a turning Indian track, Henriques has done a creditable job.
He seldom used his feet to the spinners but ensured that he stretched his front foot enough and got his whole body behind the bat to negate the offspin rushing though his defences. Henriques, who captained the Australia Under-19 squad after making his debut at the age of 16, also displayed his leadership traits while marshalling the tailenders to prolong an inevitable Indian victory. He compiled stands of 24, 14 and an unbeaten 57 with the last three batsmen and never looked flustered with this additional responsibility.
With the tone for the rest of the series set with this Test, Henriques' fighting half-centuries in both innings have vindicated the selector's belief in him. The cool head and temperament he displayed could definitely make him a regular at No. 7 at least for this series and the upcoming back-to-back Ashes.