Australia A salvage a draw
India A 284 (Kaif 94, Chawla 66, Bollinger 4-59) drew with Australia A 116 (North 41, Parmar 4-37, Chawla 3-39) & 263 for 7 (North 88, Katich 56, Tyagi 4-42)
The first unofficial Test ended in a stalemate and, though India A held the upper hand for the most part, forcing Australia A to follow on, the visitors clung on to force a draw, play being called off with an hour left. Both teams will leave Bangalore with several positives. Bryce McGain's accurate bowling on the first day and Marcus North's batting in the second innings are the gains for Australia, while the hosts will take heart from the batting of Mohammad Kaif and the feisty Virat Kohli and the performance of the spinners - Mohnish Parmar, the Murali clone, and Piyush Chawla.
Yet both sides also had a few questions unanswered, with the visitors worse off in this aspect. They arrived with the intent of picking one spinner for Australia's tour of India later in October; however, Beau Casson, who bowled just one over in the game after picking up a hamstring strain, and Bryce McGain, who didn't bowl a single over on the second day after a shoulder niggle, are likely to miss the next game in Hyderabad. In any case McGain, though he picked up three wickets, hardly looked threatening. And apart from Simon Katich and Marcus North, the Australian batsman have looked pretty vulnerable against spin.
India A too, have had their share of problems. Barring Kaif, who played a superb knock, displaying an improved technique, and Kohli, the batsmen including S Badrinath and Robin Uthappa, didn't come to the party. Parthiv Patel's wicketkeeping continued to be below par - failing to gather several deliveries cleanly, missing a stumping chance off Chawla - and will have given Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of the selectors who was in attendance, much to think about. Among the pacemen, Dhawal Kulkarni and Sudeep Tyagi - who was back after a back injury that laid him low for four months - showed promise but Vinay Kumar looked pretty ineffective.
The spinners' real test came on the last day and though it would be harsh to say they failed, they didn't come out unscathed. In the first innings, they didn't have to show the guile of flight and loop and variations in pace; in the second, when they needed to, they didn't. The Australians seemed to have overcome the surprise element of Parmar's action and picked Chawla's googlies better.
Australia A began the second innings with much to prove after they failed to clear the follow-on mark, lasting only nine deliveries on the third day. The top order showed more character from the start with Australia A marching to 228 for 3 before the inevitable mini-collapse arrived but the game was saved by then.
The stand-out performances for the Australians came from North, who led with a polished 88, Simon Katich, and the 19-year old Phillip Hughes. Katich looked very composed and though Hughes had his share of problems outside off against the unlucky Dhawal Kulkarni, they saw off the new ball before they negated the threat of the spinners, their nemeses from the previous day. Mostly crease-bound in the first innings, they used their feet second time around and looked to remain positive.
Katich, in particular, used the crease well, going forward or backward as the length demanded. He struck the first counter-attacking blow when he lifted Parmar over cow corner. Time and again, he would come down the track to drive the legspinner Chawla through the on side or go back to cut Parmar. And the trademark wristy flicks to square leg were ever present, though he fell, yorking himself, attempting to whip Badrinath across the line.
Though Hughes fell, edging a glance to wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel, North ensured there wouldn't be any flutter in the camp. Looking very assured against both spin and pace, he leaned well forward to smother the turn from the spinners, batted ahead of the pad and middled the ball. He seemed to be reading the variations of the googlies and doosras much better than on the previous occasion, using his feet well to counter the spin and thread both sides of the wickets.
However, the lower order continued to struggle against the incutters of Tyagi, who looked devastating against the right-hand batsmen particularly. Three of his wickets were right-handers of which two dismissals were off beauties that would have troubled any batsman. He had George Bailey trapped in front and burst through the defences of the startled Luke Ronchi. Even North, was surprised by the extra bounce as he top-edged the pull to mid-on. However, it was the other seamer Kulkarni who hit the right areas more consistently and moved the ball both ways. He troubled Hughes with deliveries both cutting away and moving in, but was unlucky to finish wicketless.
It remains to be seen whether the second match in Hyderabad will reveal the answers or throw up more questions for both teams.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo