By Khurram Habib
New Delhi, Dec 29 (IANS) India’s biggest takeaway from the second Test apart from the series-equalling win was the ability of debutants Shubman Gill (45 and 32 not out) and Mohammed Siraj (2/40 and 3/37) to step in and perform with self-assurance. Although they didn’t get the big numbers, the two did enough damage to Australia and helped India win.
Before the start of the second Test, India were facing a conundrum at the top of the order. With Rohit Sharma in quarantine after arriving in Australia late due to his rehab at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, and Prithvi Shaw failing in both innings of the first Test, India had to throw in young Gill at the deep end. And though the opener survived some tense moments, he did not budge from playing his shots.
On a tense Saturday evening, the first day of the first Test, 21-year-old Gill survived a chance on four when Marnus Labuschagne dropped him in third slip off the bowling of Pat Cummins. The very next ball from Mitchell Starc was dispatched to the fence as the batsman got on top of the bounce and punched it through cover.
Soon, Gill was moving down the track to Nathan Lyon and hitting a four.
On the second morning, too, he was dropped, in the second over of the day, this time of Josh Hazlewood. But the very next ball was again dispatched to the fence on the leg-side.
Even in the second innings, when India chased a small total, facing the ghosts of 36 in the second innings of the first Test, Gill went about playing his shots even as Mayank Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara were dismissed early. The Aussies had no answer.
“I thought he looked very, very mature for someone playing his first Test match. He looked calm and composed and wasn’t afraid to play his shots, which was great to see. Even in the second innings, where it was very easy to get into a shell, Gill went out there and played his natural game which was great from the team point of view,” said India coach Ravi Shastri.
Pacer Siraj too remained unnerved despite the departure of Umesh Yadav during Australia’s second innings on the third day. He kept a tight line and became the first Indian in seven years to pick five wickets in a Test match when he got Nathan Lyon on the fourth day. Siraj’s other wickets were extremely important — he removed Cameron Green twice, Marnus Labuschagne, and Travis Head once each.
The young fast bowler was also prowling for the ball on the field, trying not to leak runs.
By Siraj’s own admission he just kept straight and accurate lines, curtailing the flow of runs and not trying anything fancy.
“I focus on the basics consistently. I don’t try much,” said Siraj while crediting domestic cricket and Indian Premier League (IPL) for patience and confidence.
Hyderabad Cricket Association vice-president John Manoj told IANS: “We had picked Siraj in the under-23 bowler. But it was after the arrival of Bharat Arun as coach of Hyderabad in 2016 that he learnt what it takes to be a professional bowler and raise the bar. He learnt how much hard work you have to put in practice sessions. Arun, the then bowling coach, had worked a lot on him.”
Arun is now the India bowling coach and that is helping Siraj, by his own admission.
The right-arm pace bowler has five years of experience playing first-class cricket prior to his debut Test.
India skipper Ajinkya Rahane on Tuesday too credited domestic cricket and other non-Test first-class experience as the reason behind Siraj’s ability to bowl with discipline.
“It’s really difficult for debutants to bowl with discipline but that’s where I think the first-class experience comes in handy. Even India A level, that helps a lot; the way Siraj bowled was magnificent. [In his] first Test match, bowling with the same discipline and patience was very good to see. Credit to both of them [Siraj and Gill] for showing character and attitude,” said Rahane after the match.
Shastri also praised Siraj, saying: “He might not have the numbers to show but the discipline and ability to bowl long spells, maturity he showed for someone playing his first Test match and doing the job he had to do once we lost Umesh was outstanding.”
Shastri credited IPL for the ability of Indian youngsters like Gill and Siraj to step onto the field without even a hint of nerve.
“I think a lot has to do with the IPL. The fact that they share the dressing room with international players, they rub shoulders with the best. That complex factor disappears very quickly. You see what you see now,” said Shastri, when asked about the maturity the youngsters have shown.
Gill plays and opens for Kolkata Knight Riders, sharing the dressing room with Pat Cummins and Lockie Ferguson and faces them at the nets among other internationals, Siraj shares the dressing room with the likes of AB de Villiers and Aaron Finch and bowls at them at the Royal Challengers Bangalore nets.
“That is the brand of cricket we have been playing for the last three-four years. When you have these debutants show that kind of maturity, flair and discipline, it is great,” said Shastri.