NEWS

Opening stand keeps India and a baying crowd at bay


Australia’s Marcus Harris ducks under a short ball from India’s Umesh Yadav on Day One of the second Test at the Optus Stadium in Perth on Friday. AP

When Marcus Harris gingerly walked out to bat, a section of the crowd began to boo. A few steps further from him, Aaron Finch was stretching his shoulders, and the crowd began to peel out desultory jokes. It must have been the unkindest welcome ever granted to a pair of Australian openers by their own fiercely parochial spectators.

But Harris, the local lad, hasn’t been forgiven yet for switching his loyalties to Victoria, where he transformed from “mediocre batsman with flashes of brilliance” to a well-rounded stroke-player, who has been topping the domestic chart for the last two years. The hostility was further exaggerated by a vicious scuttlebutt that he fought with then Western Australia coach Justin Langer before parting ways, a rumour both of them had rubbished. All this happened three years ago, but the memory of a sporting crowd is long, and one of them shouted at him: “Sissy boy, show you’re a man.”

Finch-loathing is a more pan-Australian phenomenon, and purely related to the matters on the field. Not that he has antagonised them — in fact, he fits into the Aussie stereotype of burly, buccaneering batsman — but they don’t find him a worthy enough embellisher to Australia’s grand tradition of opening pairs. And Finch has done precious little to prove them wrong, as his body of work suggests (192 runs in six innings at 32). And once you’re derided by the Aussie, you always will be, but en route to stitching a 112-run partnership, they won over a few unmoving hearts.

It wasn’t always glorious stroke-play, it wasn’t always assured batsmanship, but it symbolised the most Aussie of Australian virtues — defiance. No doubt, they benefitted from the Indian seamers’ waywardness with the new ball, an inexplicable lack of discipline that they lived by in Adelaide. But it wasn’t a good little stroll to bat either, for there was appreciable lateral deviation, stray instances of uneven bounce and considerable carry to make batsmen worry about their wicket and well-being.

It’s such a scenario, it’s easy to get confused, when the ball is hemming around so much, you’re unsure of foot-movement, manifested by half-prods, crease-stuck feet, hard hands and tentative stabs. For, at the back of your mind, you’re perennially fearing and subconsciously drawing the trajectory of the killer ball.

It’s a dangerous mindset, also the primary fear they eschewed. “When the ball starts seaming off good parts of the wicket and quite dramatically at times, I think that’s when you know you need to tighten up but you have to also be in a position to cash in on some balls that you can hit, otherwise you get stuck on the crease, stuck in two minds and end up letting the wicket get you out without the wicket doing anything,” elaborated Finch.

Then Finch played what Mark Waugh described as the perfect WACA shot — harnessing the bowlers’ pace down to vacant third-man. Thereafter, runs, hitherto coming in a trickle, came in a deluge. Primarily from Harris’s bat. Finch was relatively quieter, satisfied picking the singles and twos, suppressing the limited-over bravado we’re so accustomed to seeing from him, and surviving a couple of close lbw shouts, saved both times by the bounce of the pitch.

But they hung on, thanks to their pragmatic adjustments. Harris opened up his stance while Finch stood a metre outside the crease, shortened his back and across movement by taking a middle-stump guard. Finch eventually fell to a Jasprit Bumrah half-volley, beaten by pace than movement Finch. Harris, meanwhile, could do nothing against a Hanuma Vihari snorter.



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