Fifties for Rahul and Pujara, others struggle
India A 221 for 6 (Rahul 96, Pujara 55, Fekete 2-38, O'Keefe 2-66) v Australia A
A sluggish surface at the MA Chidambaram Stadium produced an attritional first day on which India A took the early initiative through a century stand between KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara before losing five wickets for 94 runs to Australia A's constricting tactics. When rain brought the first day's play to a close at half past four, India were 221 for 6.
With Varun Aaron missing out due to fever, India went in with an attack consisting of two seamers in Umesh Yadav and Abhimanyu Mithun, and the spin pair of Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha. India's early progress, after they chose to bat, gave no hint as to how the day would pan out. Rahul eased Gurinder Sandhu for drives to the cover and straight boundaries in the first over, and Mukund caressed two cover-driven fours off Andrew Fekete in the next over before playing all around a yorker.
The match settled into a steadier rhythm thereafter, but there were enough bad balls for Rahul and Pujara to score off and keep the score ticking along at more than three runs an over. Rahul flicked Sean Abbott off his toes to the fine leg boundary and took two fours off the left-arm spinner Steve O'Keefe's first over - a flat-bat drive between cover point and short cover, and a dismissive square cut when he pitched short. Pujara soaked up some good bowling early on, but caught up with Rahul as the session wore on, driving Abbott through cover and gliding Marcus Stoinis between slip and gully for two fours in two overs.
Both batsmen were in their 40s at lunch, with India 104 for 1 in 30 overs. They both brought up their fifties with boundaries after lunch; Rahul cutting Fekete behind point, Pujara driving Sandhu down the ground.
Australia, though, had worked out a plan for their seamers. From start of the second session through the rest of the day, they bowled a nagging stump-to-stump line with five fielders on the leg side - usually a short mid-on and a short midwicket, a deeper mid-on in between, and two back for the hook. Given the slowness of the pitch, the batsmen had to be careful about flicking or driving anything that was not overpitched. It was hardly the kind of test Rahul Dravid, the India A coach, had hoped his batsmen would be exposed to when he had called for quick, bouncy pitches in the lead-up to the series. It was still a test, nonetheless.
Fekete got the ball to stop on Pujara twice in two overs. Both times, he jabbed early at the ball while defending from the crease. The first one fell just short of Usman Khawaja at short mid-on. The second one carried to him.
Abbott, replacing Fekete after his successful spell, nearly struck in the same manner in the 48th over, Rahul popping one in the air between short mid-on and short midwicket. In between, O'Keefe, and the pressure of playing out 14 dot balls, had sent back Karun Nair, who drove too early and scooped a catch to short cover .
Nair's wicket brought Shreyas Iyer to the crease, and his arrival brought a thrillingly discordant note to the day's play in a fourth-wicket stand of 55 with Rahul. Seeming to pick up length earlier than most, Iyer cut Abbott for four off a ball that was barely short and only marginally wide, and pulled Sandhu for two fours in one over - either side of deep square leg - when he went around the wicket shortly before tea. But a silly shot was always around the corner; having earlier attempted, unsuccessfully, to paddle Abbott, Iyer was bowled while trying to whip Sandhu across the line.
Five overs later, Rahul gave short mid-on another moment in the sun. Trying to flick Abbott off the stumps, he played a touch too early, and fell four runs short of a hundred.
Australia continued to constrict: only seven runs came off the ten overs that followed Rahul's dismissal. The pressure finally told on Naman Ojha; having scored 10 off 55 balls, he saw a bit of air from O'Keefe, went after him, and failed to clear mid-off. The light was fading rapidly already, and Travis Head, brought on to bowl his offspin from the other end, could only send down one ball before the groundstaff raced in with the covers.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo