Ajinkya Rahane, who is set to take over as captain from Virat Kohli in a few weeks, made the ideal start to his tour of with a superbly constructed hundred on the opening day against a demanding Australia A attack for which James Pattinson, in his first red-ball outing for nearly a year, put in a performance to suggest he would be ready for the Test side if needed.
Overall, it was a mixed outing with the bat for the Indians, Rahane’s fine century and Cheteshwar Pujara’s obdurate fifty balanced against three ducks in the top six. Pattinson, who is actually an incumbent player having faced New Zealand at the SCG in January when Josh Hazlewood was injured, finished with 3 for 58 including the scalp of Pujara for a 140-ball 54.
The Indians, for whom this was the first multi-day match for all of them since March, recovered from 3 for 40 and 6 for 128 through the efforts of Rahane, who brought up his hundred from 203 deliveries, helped by contrasting lower-order contributions from Kuldeep Yadav and Umesh Yadav, the latter somewhat denting Pattinson’s figures.
The other standout feature of Australia A’s bowling display was the eight overs sent down by Cameron Green across two spells. Generating good pace and carry on a pitch that offered encouraging bounce, he caused problems to the Indian batsmen.
Rahane won the toss and batted in the first of two warm-up matches, the second under lights at the SCG starting Friday, as a decent smattering of spectators gathered on the grass banks outside the ground. However, the openers did not last long. Shubman Gill fell first ball he faced, to Michael Neser, getting an inside edge onto his pads which looped to the slips. In the next over, Prithvi Shaw edged a rapid outswinger from Pattinson.
Pujara and Hanuma Vihari negotiated the remainder of the opening spells, but Australia A’s phalanx of pacemen – there was no specialist spinner included the XI with Mitchell Swepson having moved to the T20I squad – maintained the pressure, particularly Green whose first four overs cost just four runs as it hit a challenging length outside off. Tim Paine was regularly taking deliveries on the rise, although it remains to be seen when this is the case in Test cricket.
Jackson Bird broke through when he pinned Vihari lbw although there may have been some doubt over the decision and at lunch, the Indians sat on an uneasy 3 for 65.
A large part of the afternoon session saw Pujara and Rahane steady the innings with a stand of 76 in 28 overs. Pujara’s innings was an early reminder of how he was the rock behind India’s series win here two years ago during which he made 521 and wore the Australian attack down.
Playing his first competitive cricket since March, he was the soon back into his bubble (the batting variety, rather than the biosecure variety) and at one stage went 27 deliveries between scoring shots, a sequence that was ended by an inside edge to the leg side.
His half-century arrived from 129 balls, via a brace of overthrows, before a dismissal that may become a large part of Australia’s plans for the Test series as he turned a delivery off his pads and was well caught, low down, at leg gully by Marcus Harris. It was very similar to the way Australia removed him in the second innings of the MCG Test in 2018, when he flicked Pat Cummins around the corner for a duck – albeit with India miles ahead in the game and sandwiched between scores of 106 and 193.
The Indians then slipped again as Wriddhiman Saha, who suffered a hamstring injury in the latter stages of the IPL, was given lbw in captain Head’s first over although it looked a rough decision. R Ashwin was then pinned by a full, fast delivery from Pattinson as the Indians lost 3 for 12 before tea.
Although he was beaten on occasions, Rahane’s game looked in very good order with some of his drives especially pleasing on the eye. His most expansive moment was when he went to his fifty with an upper cut for six off Pattinson during the early stages of a stand with Kuldeep which frustrated Australia A’s attempts for swift mopping up of the tail.
Rahane cashed in against the old ball, relative to the general pace of scoring through the day on a surface that rarely allowed the batsmen to break free. When the new ball was taken, he moved to 98 with a glide through the slips before a brace into the covers brought the hundred. For a man who will have a vital part to play in the series, it was the ideal performance to set up the tour.