Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - How curiosity made for anticipation in the lead up to the pink-ball Test. The encounter at Carrara Oval is set to be the first Test between India and Australia in 16 years
The encounter at Carrara Oval is set to be the first Test between India and Australia in 16 years
Shib Sundar Das must have made at least five separate visits to the centre of the Metricon Stadium on Wednesday (September 29). He had a different partner on each occasion too. The first of those was a solo recce mission to get a close-up of the rather green-tinged pitch. He was soon joined by head coach Ramesh Powar, who after a quick pitch inspection began sizing up the boundaries on the off-side from where he stood. Powar then walked off to have a brief chat with the head groundsman while Das now had captain Mithali Raj for company.
The duo then set about studying the surface further with Raj even bending down to give it a little tap to check its firmness. Das' next two trips came later in the evening on what was a rain-affected training day. There was the time he concluded a long chat with Punam Raut about how to avoid playing the ball on the up against the pink-ball by demonstrating the same technique next to the pitch. And the former Test opener turned batting coach returned one final time to the middle, this time with Jemimah Rodrigues in tow. His curiosity seemed to be focused on the potential challenges of sighting the pink-ball with all the red seats in the background. Das and Rodrigues walked across to both ends, trying to gauge what might potentially be in store for the batters from both teams over the next four days and nights.
Curiosity has been an overriding emotion around the first-ever day-night Test between Australia and India on the Gold Coast. And it's not only the visitors who've had a feeling of this being a trip into the very unknown. None of the Aussies have after all played a Test against India. None of them had even started playing professionally when the two teams last played in whites. A few of them, meanwhile, had barely started walking back in February 2006.
That curiosity has extended to how the teams have gone about their preparation and perhaps even in the final playing XIs that get picked for the Test.
For India, Tuesday's session was their first appointment as we know now with the pink ball. And while some of the seamers seemed to be come to grips with it straight away, there were a few from every bowler that either floated off their hands without a rudder on them and others that didn't land where they'd have liked. Unlike Jhulan Goswami a day later. The veteran fast bowler had taken Tuesday off following her exploits in Mackay. She'd plonked herself on a high-chair and held court instead.
That is before she popped into the nets on Wednesday, picked up a ball, looked at it like it was the latest toy she'd picked off the shelf, and landed it perfectly to beat young Shafali Verma's outside-edge. To much hooting and hollering from everyone around of course.
By the time, Goswami got her hands on the ball, her significantly junior pace colleagues, Meghna Singh and Pooja Vastrakar seemed to have much more control with landing it. But nothing quite like Goswami, who was at her irresistible best, beating the bat and being a menace, at times even when not coming off her full run.
A day earlier it was also the turn of the batters to get their eyes used to facing the pink ball and its vagaries. Verma in particular, as you'd expect, seemed to have little worry in negotiating the challenge. Not like she ever seems to care about the colour of the ball, till the time it's there to hit, especially if it's a spinner tossing one up to her. Raut had her issues and would have some more on Wednesday, especially whenever the ball jumped at off a length. Rodrigues meanwhile was her busy self, even if it mainly meant being of assistance to her teammates-from batting with a stump to help the spinners get used to handling the ball.
Raj was the last batter in, almost when nearly the rest of the team had left the nets area. A couple of deliveries from the throwdown specialist was all she needed to get her eye in. At that exact moment, she looked ready for Australia in what will be her 12th Test in nearly 19 years of international cricket. She spent a fair while hitting balls before a nod of the head to Das.
Unfortunately for the Indians, the training session on the eve of the match was cut short by an unexpected shower. To their relief though, most of the top-order had spent some time in the nets by then and been tested, especially when Goswami had the ball in her hands. But you could see they wanted some more time to feel fully prepared.
Smriti Mandhana was the keenest. She hadn't looked too chuffed with herself on Tuesday. She'd even sought out Rodrigues for a chat at the end of her nets session to share some observations. After having been dismissed caught in the gully region on a couple of occasions during the ODIs, the elegant left-hander seemed keen on making sure her bat was coming down at a straighter angle than it had been. Also, so that her bat face doesn't open up that little bit at the point of contact.
Not that Goswami was making life any easier for the opener. Mandhana was visibly peeved with herself when she edged a couple of the tall seamer's angled deliveries. And she seemed most disappointed by the inopportune rain break, venting it out by charging at the last ball she faced in the net and unleashing an aerial drive. While the rest rushed towards the pavilion to escape the heavy drizzle, Mandhana dragged herself there, even smacking her pad with the bat on one occasion. She wanted more.
Before long, she had one of the support staff lobbing throwdowns at her on the outfield near the dressing-room. It was only around 20 minutes into this knocking session that she started to feel more like herself-or so it seemed looking from afar. Others like Raj, Raut, Yastika Bhatia and Taniya Bhatia too chose to face a few throwdowns while the others got busy with their fielding drills.
Mandhana seemed a lot happier a little while later as she started practicing her close-in catching. There was an evident lift in spirits amongst the Indians as the lights took full effect over Metricon Stadium and the rain went away. Powar chose a spot not too far from the pitch to convene a team huddle. A few words of encouragement later, they all spread out in different directions of the ground for catching practice. This session continued for nearly 45 minutes with lots of cheering every time someone took a catch of note.
Funnily enough, the only time there was a break in play is when the organisers would start playing the Indian national anthem as part of testing the speakers around the ground. Almost on cue, practice would stop, and every member of the Indian camp would stand in attention.
Though the Aussies have played a pink-ball Test before, the likes of Ellyse Perry and Meg Lanning were not leaving anything to chance either during their practice sessions. The hosts were in full-strength on both days leading up to the Test. And after reasonably lengthy nets on Tuesday, the final day of preparation was focused more around specific skills. Perry, who scored a double ton the last time she played a Test under lights, was kept busy by bowling coach Ben Sawyer as she worked on her cut shots, making sure she was rolling her wrists down on each occasion. Lanning's stint with Matthew Mott was more about leaving balls, and she seemed to get it right every time except once when Mott went, “neither you nor I would be happy with that”.
By the end of their respective training sessions on Wednesday, curiosity had made way for anticipation for both teams. At some point during India's nets, one of the coaches shouted out a very pointed piece of advice.
“Australia ko chaar din khilana hai (We need to keep up with Australia for four days).” And regardless of which way the match goes, that's exactly what Mithali Raj and her team will be keen to do as they boldly take a deep dive into the unknown on the Gold Coast.