Speed guns belong in the same despicable category as breath analysers and bad drivers. Unless they’re on television showing up fast bowlers for what they’re really worth. One such implement records Rest of India’s S Sreesanth, Abhimayu Mithun and Ishwar Pandey averaging about 130 kmph all through Friday. Not a patch on the kind of bowling Sachin Tendulkar and possibly Ajinkya Rahane will be up against in the four Tests versus Australia. The pace battery of Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Jackson Bird and Mitchell Starc functions at a completely different level. Although a majority of wickets in England’s epochal series win in India last year fell to spin, Australia’s last triumph on the sub-continent – under Adam Gilchrist in 2004 - was beget by the pace of McGrath, Gillespie and Kasprowicz. Will a dwindling India’s vulnerability to genuine quick bowling cost them another home series?
India’s own cupboard of bowlers looks scarily empty. Fast bowlers Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav are still under a cloud of injury, while spinners Pragyan Ojha and Ravi Ashwin are coming off an underwhelming last season. There is little by way of replacements. Bengal seamer Shami Ahmed was expected to feature in the Irani Cup and display his skill in the five-day format ahead of the Australia series. But he was not picked in Rest’s eleven. The seamers on show at the Wankhede, including the top domestic wicket taker Ishwar Pandey, do nothing out of the ordinary on a helpful pitch. Harbhajan Singh too is on the comeback trail, as is S Sreesanth. Not the most promising of precursors for what is being build up as a crunch series.
Not quite top-flight
Eight ODIs, three Twenty20s and a brush with Test cricket in the last five years. Not for nothing is Manoj Tiwary considered oversighted by fortune. But going by how he scratches around for the first hundred balls of his innings, it isn’t just luck he lacks. Tiwary is confounded by Abhishek Nayar’s sub-military medium pace and endures a torrid time against the Mumbai all-rounder. He needs 60 balls to get to 11 and a few more to play his first assertive shot of the game, reading neither the inswinger nor the one that shapes away. Tiwary has recovered fully from a side strain that keeps him out for six weeks and from the England Twenty20s. Before that he has had a solid, but truncated, Ranji season. A dogged fifty in the Irani Cup is unlikely to make it happen for Tiwary, not against the Australians, not anytime soon.
Mid way into the post-lunch session, Ambati Raydu finds his radar with a couple of sweetly struck sixes. Tiwary has streaked his way to fifty too, and as Rest’s lead nears 300 the match begins a steady crawl out of the clutches of an outright result. A likely draw with Rest winners on first innings lead, but what about the ostensible purpose of the fixture as an indicator to selection? Harbhajan Singh has as much riding on the game as anybody else. Perhaps, a five-wicket haul here holds the key to his return to Tests, and the only way to go about it is to declare and have a shot at Mumbai in their second innings. In which case, candidates such as Wasim Jaffer and Ajinkya Rahane will also have another chance of serving final notice before Sunday’s selection meeting. But the declaration is put off until the final day, Sunday, which is why the wise men meet to pick the squad.
You just cannot suppress Suresh Raina's limited-overs streak. The southpaw enters the arena following an end to Tiwary's patchy ways and steps down the track to Vishal Dabholkar first ball for four. The southpaw is particularly harsh on the left-arm spinner, rocking back to cut him for boundaries and sending one soaring over long on. Raina's hasty tactics rocket Rest's lead towards 400 and Rayudu, grateful for finally finding a free-scoring partner, comes up with some big shots of his own. Raina makes an racy century in the first innings; a sparkling half-century - if he gets there tomorrow - will place him firmly in contention for the crucial No.6 spot in the upcoming Tests.