Leaving a lot to be desired

RAKESH RAO

Ravikanth Shukla came good with the bat.-R.V. MOORTHY

IT was meant to be a series between the wannabe stars of tomorrow. The Indian and the Australian Colts were expected to test each other in their preparation ahead of next year's Youth World Cup in Sri Lanka. The venues — Mohali, Dharamshala and New Delhi — promised fair opportunities to batsmen and bowlers to show their worth. However, nothing happened as anticipated.

Incessant rains in the region almost drew a wet blanket over the five-match one-day series before relenting just in time. The preparation of the pitches suffered as a result of which only Mohali could provide a good one-day surface.

Eventually, the Indians had reasons to be pleased. A 4-1 triumph was a reflection of the fact that the host had done better than the visiting team. But on closer scrutiny, it was clear that the difference between the teams was less than what the margin suggested.

Overall, this low-scoring series fell short of providing quality cricket. Blame the weather, pitch or the lack of abilities of the players, the fare on view left a lot to be desired.

Barring the all-round abilities of Moises Henrqiues and Piyush Chawla, and the batting of skipper Ravikant Shukla and Rohit Sharma, notable individual performances were at a premium. Wicketkeeper Pinal Shah was impressive throughout. His leg-side collection was a delight and his catching was clean. He was also part of a match-winning stand in the first game with Shahbaz Nadeem. There were only two 50-plus scores from the Indians. Shukla and Chawla managed to cross the half-century mark but others such as S. Anirudha, Rohit Sharma and Arindam Ghosh were all guilty of throwing away good starts.

Piyush Chawla... all-round effort.-R.V. MOORTHY

Surprisingly, no particular bowler stood out. Ali Murtaza, Chawla, and V. Yomahesh took eight wickets each while Abu Nachim, who managed a fortuitous hat-trick in the fourth game, got one less. The sequence of soft dismissals continued right through and sadly took the sheen off some good bowling performances.

For Australia, the batsmen did much better with five of them accounting for six 50s. Australia's best batting display came in the second game when it belted the Indian attack to all corners and won with a show of authority. However, in the other matches, most of its batsmen failed to live up to their promise.

David Warner top-scored with 167 from four outings. Three runs behind was Tom Cooper, a last-minute replacement for Shannon Hurn. Henriques, of Portuguese origin, was clearly the pick. He scored 132 runs from four games and took eight wickets at an average of 18.25 with his medium pace. His cricketing abilities surely look good enough to lead him to the Australian National team in the future.

Among the batsmen, Greame Skennar and Aaron Finch looked well organised though they did not score heavily in the series. The left-handed Usman Khawaja, of Pakistani origin, played stylishly but failed to last long enough to leave an impression.

The none-too-intimidating Australian attack repeatedly managed to force the Indians to err. Its fielding was clearly superior and played a major part in making its bowling look more effective.

At the outset, the Australians declared that they were in India to experiment. They said results meant very little to them as long as they go back as better players of spin. They hoped the pitches in India would help them cope with the conditions in Lanka next year.

Abu Nachim...a fortuitous hat-trick in the fourth game.-R.V. MOORTHY

Coach Brian McFadyen was candid in sharing the objectives of this tour. "Our performance in the last Youth World Cup was very disappointing. That's the reason why we've started working towards building a team for the next edition in Sri Lanka in February 2006. These boys are only part of those short-listed. Some more are waiting back home and a few more will be picked from our National Youth Championship in December. Thereafter, we will have a camp from which the final team will be chosen."

In the last edition at Dhaka, Australia began as the favourite but crashed to a surprise loss to Zimbabwe and was later forced to play in the Plate Division. There, too, Australia lost to Bangladesh in the final.

True to his word, McFadyen experimented in every match. There was a new captain for every game. "It gives us a fair idea of an individual's leadership qualities as well as his acceptance in a group," explained the coach. The batting order changed in every match, irrespective of the defeats suffered by the team. Almost everyone who could bowl was given a chance. In fact, nine players were given opportunities to bowl in the second game at Mohali.

While the Australians were busy learning from experience, the Indians stayed firmly focussed on winning the series. Coach Venkatesh Prasad, along with coach-cum-trainer Muthu Kumar and the friendly video-analyst A. Prasanna formed the back-up team. Prasad, the man behind the India under-19 team that dominated England in the home series earlier this year, worked hard to motivate the boys. Though Prasad was pleased with the team winning the series, he knew there were several areas for improvement.

His next goal is winning the Afro-Asian (under-19) championship at Visakhapatnam in November. This will also be the last chance for the prospects to get into the list of probables for the Youth World Cup.

Australian Tom Cooper helped his team to a six-wicket victory in the second match at Mohali.-R.V. MOORTHY

"I think our batsmen did not occupy the crease as they should have," said Prasad. "Unless the batsmen know the importance of staying in the middle, it is difficult to post big totals. Our stroke-makers played their shots too early and did not show the patience required to build big innings. Our bowlers also need to know where to pitch the ball. The video-analysis was of big help in showing the bowlers where they were going wrong. They are all fantastic talents and I am sure they will learn fast," he added.

Chief selector Pravin Amre was disappointed with the way the Indian batsmen failed to make the most of the opportunities. "I am surprised at the lack of commitment of our batsmen. This Australian attack is not so effective on our pitches and our batsmen should have scored much more. After all, when will they get another chance to score against a team like Australia?" pointed out Amre.

At the end, the Indians were happy to have won while the Australians left with a feeling of having learnt "a fair amount" from the series.

The scores India won the series 4-1.

Match 1: Australia 214 for six in 45 overs (Moises Henriques 85 not out, Ben Gledhill 40, Aaron Finch 37) lost to India 215 for eight in 39.3 overs (Ravikant Shukla 62, Rohit Sharma 44, Patrick Darwen three for 31) by two wickets at Mohali.

Match 2: India 230 in 48.3 overs (Piyush Chawla 55, S. Anirudha 34, Ravikant Shukla 33, Arindam Ghosh 33, Jackson Bird three for 30) lost to Australia 231 for four in 34.3 overs (Graeme Skennar 64, Tom Cooper 62, Moises Hendriques 42, David Warner 34) by six wickets at Mohali.

Match 3: Australia 129 in 30.3 overs (Tom Stray 33, Usman Khwaja 30, Ali Murtaza three for 12, Anand Rajan three for 46) lost to India 131 for six in 30 overs (Rohit Sharma 39, S. Anirudha 38) by four wickets at Dharamshala.

Match 4: Australia 212 in 50 overs (David Warner 56, Peter Wells 50, Tom Cooper 37, Abu Nachim three for 23, Ali Murtaza three for 38) lost to India 154 for four in 33 overs (Piyush Chawla 49 not out, Mayank Tehlan 42 not out, Rohit Sharma 30) by six wickets (D/L Method) at Dharamshala.

Match 5: India 196 in 45.4 overs (Moises Henriques three for 50) beat Australia 165 in 38.1 overs (David Warner 73 not out, Tom Cooper 45, Pragyan Ojha three for 25, Piyush Chawla three for 31) by 31 runs in New Delhi.