<
>

Mohammed Siraj, K Gowtham and Ambati Rayudu set up big win for India A

India A 152 for 5 (Rayudu 62*, Krunal 49, Richardson 3-27) beat Australia A 151 (Agar 34, Head 28, Siraj 4-68, Gowtham 3-31) by five wickets

Yo-yo fitness is one thing, scoring runs under pressure is another. While an opportunity to seal an ODI middle-order berth in England bypassed him because of fitness issues, Ambati Rayudu, less than 24 hours after being drafted into the India A squad, stood tall to make 62 not out in a hard-working five-wicket win in the Quadrangular series opener in Bengaluru.

At the other end for most of Rayudu's innings was Krunal Pandya, who showed he could be the missing link in India's middle order - someone capable of providing batting solidity apart from chipping in with the ball. Krunal, who walked out with India A tottering at 29 for 4 in a chase of 152, made a measured 49. Nitish Rana, who came in at No. 7, polished the remaining runs off in the 39th over and India A walked away with a bonus point.

Rayudu's methods were perfectly tailored to the situation India A were in. He didn't play a shot in anger, was assured in his footwork, and didn't jab at the ball. This helped him fight through a searing burst from Billy Stanlake and Jhye Richardson. Once the hard work was done, he picked up runs against the spinners. Krunal was sensible too, acknowledging he was better off rotating the strike and playing second-fiddle.

Prior to the repair job, Stanlake troubled the top order with bounce, while Richardson's accuracy heightened the threat of the movement he generated off the deck. The reward was three early wickets, all to Richardson. The pair then had Shreyas Iyer and Rayudu hopping and defending, until the lunch break came as a relief for India A, who went into the interval 24 for 3 in 10 overs. Australia A's position in the game was suddenly less vulnerable than it had been an hour earlier.

Post lunch, When Iyer was out caught at slip off Ashton Agar, India A were on the mat. But once spin came on from both ends, both Rayudu and Krunal found run-accumulation easier. The pair had taken India A to within 14 runs of victory when Krunal fell for 49. By then, they had added 112 for the fifth wicket. The stand was more industrious than enterprising but it did the job.

For Australia A, this was a game of missed opportunities with the bat. In their first proper hit on the tour after a frustratingly wet week in Vijayawada, they were undone by pace and spin alike. Their scoreboard read a miserable 151 all out in 31.3 overs, in decent batting conditions.

At the toss, Travis Head, the Australia A captain, had the eagerness of a restless child finally unleashed after being confined indoors against his wishes. He decided to bat, which seemed the right decision, result notwithstanding.

With his IPL experience playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore, Head looked the most comfortable Australia A batsman until he was beaten by K Gowtham's indrifter, which dipped and sneaked through the gap between bat and pad to bowl him for a 38-ball 28. An improved white-ball bowler courtesy his IPL stint with Rajasthan Royals, Gowtham then dismissed Peter Handscomb and Matt Renshaw - both of whom have had Test experience in India - to leave Australia A 76 for 5.

There was no respite at the other end either. Mohammed Siraj - who has picked up 29 wickets in four first-class games this summer - carried his red-ball form into the shorter format too, cutting through the lower order to pick four wickets. A bruising 34 from Agar hurt Siraj's final analysis, which still read a creditable 10-0-68-4. Agar ensured Australia A's innings stretched past the 30-over mark, although that was no consolation.

Australia A's collapse began when D'Arcy Short slapped a short and wide ball to Rayudu, who took a catch on the second grab at cover in the fourth over. Usman Khawaja, vying for the opener's slot for Australia's UAE tour, got a brute from Khaleel Ahmed. The selectors have invested in the left-arm quick for bowling a style that is becoming a rarity in Indian cricket since the days of Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Irfan Pathan.

There's Barinder Sran, who made his India debut in 2016, but has since drifted away due to form and injury issues. This has presented Khaleel a chance to strengthen his case. He squared Khawaja up with a length ball that left him late to take the outside edge, which Suryakumar Yadav gobbled up at slip.

Prior to the match, Handscomb had spoken about how he was ready for the spin challenge on this tour. He didn't quite back up his words, and was stumped smartly by Sanju Samson after Gowtham shortened his length and spun an offbreak sharply down the leg side.

The collapse was full-blown when Alex Carey, being groomed for captaincy, slashed at Siraj's away-going delivery. Agar cobbled together a couple of useful lower-order stands with Michael Neser and Mitchell Swepson, before Deepak Chahar finished off the innings.