Australia’s U19 Tour of India

Recently I was lucky enough to be selected in Australian Under 19 cricket side that embarked on a trip to India. The tour, cricket-wise, was a relative success. From the beginning, it was emphasised that the focus was more on the learning, and the process than on the results of the matches against the very slick Indian U/19 team. Despite losing 4-1, the side felt that there were opportunities to take control of each game which we didn’t always grasp, and that this tour would serve the purpose of ensuring that this would occur when the World Cup comes around in February.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that all 13 who went to India will also undertake the trip to Sri Lanka in 2006, as there are many variables between now and then – form, performance in the National carnival and in club cricket foremost. However, the experience of sub-continent conditions (even if we didn’t play on a ‘Bunsen’ throughout all five matches!) and touring.

We soon found out about the ‘timeliness’ of Indian transport. Our plane was diverted from Delhi as winds were too strong, and a football was all that could keep us amused during the following six hours we spent standing on the tarmac. Once we finally got to Delhi, we were told that it would be a six to seven hour bus trip. Mind you, this was an average figure, we’d heard that many different numbers that we weren’t sure what to expect. But none of us expected the 14 hour expedition that followed, and when combined with near misses aplenty, and people waking up to find themselves sprawled over the floor, it’d be fair to say that more enjoyable bus rides have been undertaken in the history of mankind.
The first game was highlighted by two very good knocks – the first by New South Wales rookie-contracted player Moises Henriques, who struck a forceful 80 to give the antipodeans a competitive score. But Indian captain Shukla replied with a masterful 60 at an even better rate (including taking 18 off one over from a certain left-arm ‘orthdox’ spinner) and under his guidance, the Indians reached the total relatively comfortably.

The second game – like the first, played at Mohali – undertook a different course of events. After Aaron Finch changed his mind at the last second and decided to bowl. A good move in the end, as he swung the bowlers around regularly and kept the required task for our chase to just over 4 an over. The game was all but decided after 11 overs into the second innings, though – by which stage Australia was 0/100. Skennar and Cooper both slapped 50s at better than run a ball, and with the rest of the order continuing at a similar rate, the total was passed just after 30 overs.

Onwards to Dharmasala – one of the more amazing places anyone could experience. And another bus trip – one of the more scary things anyone could experience. A winding road along the Himalayas, probably as wide as a single lane on an Australian freeway. Yet somehow, the driver of our coach decided to attack it at around 60km/h, and to overtake other cars on the outside as he went around the edge of a cliff. Most of us decided that the best way to deal with this was to go to sleep, and hope that we eventually wake up!

It was at Dharmasala where the largest crowd was garnered. At least 5,000 people came along, with most coming late enough just to see the start of an Australian collapse. From 1/70 to all out 129, this included super-sub Henriques for 1, after the man who was vice-captain for the game also nominated himself to be subbed out. Although that certain vice-captain reckons he could have contributed more than one run but probably not enough to halt India from winning easily.

Backing up the next day, we once more batted first, this time under the tutelage of Skennar, and began with a stutter. A few quick poles later, and it was only through 50s from Wells and Warner that Australia was able to compile a competitive total. After having India 4/60, Chawla led a fightback as he slayed balls through the off-side for fun, and ended up getting past the par score when the rains came out of nowhere. At 4/160 with 20 overs left, they were well placed to take the points over the duration of the 50 overs, before Messrs Duckworth and Lewis decided to intervene.

Having now lost any chance of winning the series, the series moved on to Delhi. At a ground under renovations, a crowd of more Australian proportions saw a spirited effort in the field by the Australians – our best of the series. Having kept India to 205, and their chase started just as well. However, as tended to be the case, once a new batsman was exposed to the Indian spinners, there was a procession of wickets. David Warner continued to make runs up the other end, the support wasn’t there, and thanks to some brilliant spin bowling from Ozha and Chowla, and some dubious catching, the spider caught its prey and Australia was caught 30 short.

With the threat of airplane strikes, it was off to Bangalore that night, and the tour of India was finished. The honour of representing your country is not bestowed upon many people, and we all felt particularly fortunate to be able to do so – albeit in a losing cause.

On a personal note, the tour was littered with highlights; the hospitality of the Indian people at the forefront of that. From a cricketing perspective, getting out the Indian captain in Game 2 after he took to me in Game 1 was a very satisfying moment. The chance to play in front of crowds that consisted of more than my uncle’s dog was also something that really did get the senses going. What I didn’t like, though, is that we didn’t play on one turning pitch – so I still can’t turn the ball, even in the subcontinent!

In addition, I’d like to thank those at Cricket Web who passed on their best wishes. It was a lonely tour at times, but reading a certain thread in the forums certainly helped pass the time and put a smile on one member’s face which was particularly hard to wipe throughout the two week stay.

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