CHENNAI: After Rohit Sharma’s century, commentators informed Sachin Tendulkar was the last Indian opener to achieve the feat in this format in Australia. Sunday’s protagonist knew it. He was at the other end in Sydney seven years ago, not just keeping the master company, often outshining him in a 66 that was part of a decisive fourth-wicket stand in the first final of the only tri-series India have won Down Under.
That Rohit’s first big knock, following a moderate run in challenging overseas conditions against quality opposition since that early March evening, remained a consolation prize instead of something more meaningful was due to two reasons. Despite recovering and building a platform, India managed fewer than expected in the last 15 overs. And even though bowlers pulled it back, early waywardness in direction and the inability to check or bite in the middle meant they had too little to defend in the end.
Manager on that 2007-08 tour, Chetan Chauhan felt Rohit’s century was a plus, with reasons to worry. “What happens at the other end? We erred by omitting M Vijay and even if he’s reluctant, getting Ajinkya Rahane to open appears the best option. Ambati Rayudu can bat in the middle, but Shikhar Dhawan is going nowhere. Rohit is a special player, played responsibly and for the team. He has to be consistent, as his graph has been up and down since that series,” said the former India opener.
The pitch was flat and there wasn’t much swing. Even if this remains the trend, flamboyance against the new balls may not be the order of the day. Rahane and Virat Kohli fell to forcing shots and generally, there was an overflow of adrenaline in the Indian approach, even as Wasim Akram kept reminding conservation of wickets was a feature of Pakistan’s triumph in 1992. It can be noted that Rohit and Suresh Raina got runs after trading their natural game for caution. “Even if we don’t score runs, it’s better than 20 for two. Despite the partnership, India were on the back foot because they lost early wickets. Also, they are playing with six batsmen. It’s important everyone contributes. For that, the main batsmen must take responsibility. We’ve to get into the last 10 overs with wickets in hand. Because it didn’t happen, India ended about 25-30 short,” added Chauhan.
A target of 268 wasn’t as challenging throughout as it was in the last few overs of the chase. Without movement in the air, Bhuvneshwar Kumar kept things quiet by consistently bowling full outside off. The support he got was often short, on either side, as India leaked 11 fours in 15 overs, after having managed three fours and a six in that period. There was no pressure on the batsmen in the middle overs either, barring those bowled by Axar Patel, as Ravichandran Ashwin failed to contain the right-handers bowling around the wicket. Despite the late twist caused by Umesh Yadav and a few tidy overs, Australia were not giving it away after crossing 200 losing just two wickets.
“The fight was encouraging, but the attack should be consistent. On good batting pitches without movement in the air, one has to plan the defence and attack. Ability to bowl one line and skill are important in these conditions. As the ball isn’t doing much, they have to try variations like slower balls, yorkers and see how they can use the crease. Umesh looked in rhythm in the last spell. Consistency will be key for them,” said former swing bowler Subroto Banerjee, who played in the 1992 World Cup. There are other puzzles as well as India warm up for England on Tuesday.