CommBank Test Series v India
Australia in total control at SCG
Warner blasts emotional hundred to lead relentless Aussie onslaught on day one
Andrew Ramsey Sydney Cricket Ground
6 January 2015, 08:38 PM AEST
As was the case before the series began, any fears that emotion might cloud Australia’s capacity to play calculated, destructive Test cricket were put to rest as they pummelled a bereft, butter-fingered India into the dust of a dry SCG pitch today.
After a day of the fourth and final Commonwealth Bank Test of a series Australia already leads two-nil, the home team finished at 2-348 with captain Steve Smith (82no) and Shane Watson (61no) cashing in on the 201-run opening stand between century-maker David Warner and perpetually unlucky Chris Rogers (95).
But India were in no small part the masters of their own inadequacy.
A straightforward chance spilled by Lokesh Rahul at second slip in the opening half hour when Rogers was on 19 was bookended by another miss – Ravi Ashwin clasping unsuccessfully above his head at slip – when Watson produced a false stroke from the day’s penultimate delivery.
With batting likely to become increasingly difficult as the dry, bare surface begins to crumble, the Australians rode another wave of sadness on their return to the ground where Phillip Hughes was fatally struck to hold all the cards.
Warner had spoken in the days leading into the final Test of this fraught summer about the uncertainty of emotions he was likely to confront when he took guard on the pitch that immediately alongside the pitch on which Hughes was felled.
Quick Single: Warner haunted by Hughes memories
For the first half hour or more, after Smith gleefully saw the coin land in his favour and his batsmen licked their lips at the sight of a flat, dry pitch custom-ordered for runs, that effect seemed to be pronounced.
The man who penned an adrenaline-charged start to the first Test when the grief that accompanied Hughes’s passing was at its most raw, and finished that match with dual hundreds, suddenly appeared out of sorts and down on energy in Sydney.
Warner was outscored in the early overs by his normally more sedate partner Chris Rogers, and the timing and authority of his strokes against the new ball – his trademark over the bountiful past 14 months – was noticeably absent.
Having placed his batting glove on the dressing room plaque that carries Hughes’s likeness as he went out to bat, it seemed the touch he usually took to the middle had been left behind.
Quick Single: Hughes tributes stir Australian emotions
His first boundary was a thick edge that squirted between the slips cordon and the gully; the second an attempted drive that took the inside toe of the bat and squeezed past leg stump.
But while the Warner of years past might have looked to confect scoring shots where there were none, and impetuously gift his wicket along the way, the opener is an altogether different model these days.
The more mature, more reassured Warner knuckled down, knocked the ball into the many gaps that Kohli would have struggled to plug with 20 fielders, and waited for the moment when the disparate pieces clicked together.
And that moment duly came at the back end of the day’s 17th over, when Warner’s thumping stand-and-deliver swing over extra cover off Umesh Yadav paved the way for a pull shot then a sweet square drive off the next two deliveries that added up to three consecutive boundaries.
Within a blink, Warner was off and flying and India had missed their chance to reel him in.
His half century arrived next over, remarkably coming from 45 balls even though he was scarcely in his best form for the first half of his innings, and despite offering a half chance when a leading edge popped invitingly to point, he notched an even more significant milestone soon after.
The single that took him to 63 – the score on which Hughes’s final innings was tragically curtailed exactly five weeks earlier – also found him at the Randwick End of the pitch where that ghastly scene had played out.
After acknowledging the warm applause, the generosity of which had only been surpassed by the ovation that accompanied the pre-match welcome to members of Hughes’s family who were in the crowd, Warner knelt to kiss the turf where his mate had fallen.
On bended knees, he then offered a brief prayer to the heavens before getting on with business, as so many of Hughes’s other friends and teammates had exhorted as the most appropriate and practical way of honouring him.
In the aftermath of the first of his Adelaide centuries, Warner had revealed that the most emotionally draining and confronting moment of his innings came when he reached 63 and that he could not get past that number quickly enough.
It also had a visible effect on Smith in the day’s final hour when he too perched upon that number, and while eschewing the overt outpouring that Warner showed, the captain took time to lean on his bat at that same end, suck in several deep breaths and take a more-than-fleeting glance skywards.
But nothing was more instinctive or guttural than the cry Warner let loose when he muscled a pull shot from Mohammed Shami to the square leg fence to complete his 12th Test century, the screamed “yeah” coming as it before the ball had pitched and well ahead of it reaching the rope.
In recording a dozen Test hundreds, Warner draws equal with 1948 ‘Invincibles’ opener Arthur Morris and into the top 20 of batsmen for centuries scored for Australia.
The only disappointments Warner might have felt at the end of a day that had seen another emotive build-up and a recurrence of the dominance the Australians have wielded for much of the Commonwealth Bank Series was his dismissal soon after celebrating his ton.
And the fact that his contrastingly complementary opening partner Rogers fell within touching distance of the century he has threatened but failed to reach in each of the preceding three Tests.
The pair had put together Australia’s first 200-plus opening stand since Warner and Ed Cowan put on 214 in the third Test against India in Perth three years ago, a match in which Warner blazed a famous last-session century and Australia won by an innings.
And it was the biggest first-wicket partnership at the SCG since Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer combined for a 219-run start in the New Year’s Test of 2002.
Rogers also became the first Australian batsman to reach 50 in five consecutive Test innings but fail to convert any of them into centuries since Greg Matthews befell the same fate back in 1992.
But that record will stand as a grim reminder rather than a benchmark of pride, especially given the circumstances in which today’s knock ended on 95 – a delivery that would have passed harmlessly wide of off-stump diverted back on to the timber via the batsman’s inside edge.
It was a rare reprieve for an Indian attack that seemed as bereft of spirit as it was short on ideas.
Despite fielding the fourth incarnation of their pace attack in as many Tests, the tourists were profligate when the ball was new and made to look impotent as it became older.
The sight of ‘keeper Wriddhiman Saha standing up to the stumps for their opening bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar late in the day said much about the nature of both the Sydney pitch and the bowling.
As the pace trio of Yadav, Shami and Kumar leaked runs through their inability to land more than a couple of balls per over in the required spot, off-spinner Ravi Ashwin gained appreciable turn even when operating from the Paddington End in the Test’s first session.
But even though he was the only Indian bowler to manage a maiden in that first session, he was curiously switched to the opposite end after lunch from where he operated less effectively, other than the wicket of Warner who was caught off a leading edge.
With the series already gone and the current Test rapidly heading in the same direction, the combative new era expected under the captaincy of Virat Kohli might just have to wait another day.
Or maybe two.