Uncapped O'Donnell makes opportunity count
Robert O'Donnell will be leading New Zealand in the Under-19 World Cup later this month, taking along with him a bragging right that few others of his age will be able to match. Opening the innings for New Zealand XI in Whangarei, he made 80 against an Indian attack that read Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, R Ashwin and Ishwar Pandey. He had "tears of joy" when he got the call-up, and made sure to make it count.
O'Donnell was disappointed he could not make it to three figures, but was delighted to have come good against a Test-level attack, although he admitted the Cobham Oval pitch was "flat as day". "It's a very disappointing way to finish off," O'Donnell said. "It would have been amazing to have a hundred against an Indian Test team, everybody sort of dreams about that stuff. Unfortunately not today but hopefully, I will get another chance in the future someday."
He spoke confidently, outlining the challenges the Indian bowlers presented, especially Ashwin. "Ashwin bowled extremely well today," he said, calling the Indian spinners "very wise". "He only bowled a handful of overs but he knew exactly what he was doing with the ball. In terms of a wicket that bounced, Ashwin bowled a lot of topspinners which is actually a lot harder to get down the wicket to because it bounced and with the short-leg, you don't want to go too square."
O'Donnell said Pandey bowled well to the left-handers, and Zaheer to the left-right combination.
"I didn't actually get to face Pandey but he bowled very well to the left-handers. He looked a very handy, steady bowler. In terms of pace, I think Yadav just hurried us up a little bit and that's why he got a wicket with the short ball and swung the ball early. Ishant also bounced the ball which is what he is going to do.
"Zaheer bowled very well to the left-right combination. Obviously, he moves the ball both ways. He had a very good mindset in terms of bowling to the left-hander, which sort of set him up, in and out. We always knew that he was going to be smart in what he did, he is not obviously a young campaigner. We just looked to try and play him as straight as possible, try and leave well. George Worker left very well early in his innings which actually made Zaheer bowl just a little bit tighter and allowed us to get ones on the leg side."
O'Donnell pulled superbly through his innings and said it was a stroke he had grown up playing, but added that the home batsmen would have been better off playing straight than square. "Sometimes it's almost just instinct. Sometimes it is your downfall in terms of falling into traps and stuff like that," he said. "On a nice wicket where it came on today, it's nice to pull on those sorts of wickets but on slower, lower wickets, it is a lot harder when the ball sits up. On a wicket like today, it sort of came naturally."
"On a pitch like this which is not really subcontinent-like, playing the pace bowlers is about getting behind the line of the ball and playing them nice and straight, which is a big talking point really rather than looking to go square, which is how at the end of the day most of our boys got out, including myself. As soon as you start looking to play them down the ground, you give yourself a better option. The wicket is flat as day, so tomorrow could be a bit frightening with this Indian batting line-up coming up."
Although he could not convert his innings into a hundred, O'Donnell was glad to have got as many as he did against this attack ahead of the Under-19 World Cup. "Every opportunity we get out here is just going to be an absolutely learning curve for us," he said. "There are a few of the Under-19 boys that are taking part here."
"At least you have got runs under your belt, you don't have to go back and think, am I doing something wrong technically or stuff like that. When you are not doing well in cricket, it is actually tough to do.
"You need to forget about the technical side and just move on with the mental side of it. Obviously it's lovely, but things are going to change over there. We can't take it for granted. It is going to be lower, slower, and a lot hotter."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo