Cricket news - The normal feels new as India, Australia combat rust

Steve Smith referred to the game as the "longest 50-over match" he's ever been a part of

Steve Smith referred to the game as the "longest 50-over match" he's ever been a part of

Eventually it got to Virat Kohli too. He'd spent most of the afternoon waving and gesticulating frantically at his fielders. That is when he wasn't throwing his hands up in despair or kicking the ground in disgust. At one point, after the latest occasion where one of his teammates had either let a ball slip through their fingers or completely misjudged a catching opportunity, you worried that the Indian captain may hurt himself purely by the ferocity of his animated reactions. And now as he let a ball embarrassingly escape through his legs in the 49th over, he had no one to get annoyed with or throw an angsty stare at. Just himself.

By this stage though the Indians had been on the field for over four hours. They had already exceeded the allotted time to bowl their overs by nearly 40 minutes. It'd been a warm and rather humid day out on the field. It meant there were many additional instances of reserves running out with drinks for both the bowling and the batting teams. Not to forget the occasions where the ball was hit into the stands and had to be subsequently sanitised. And of course, the rather polite ground invasion by two men carrying placards slamming the proposed Adani Loan. The tardiness from the security officials in getting the protestors off the playing area though perhaps summed up the overall sluggishness of the contest, even the entire day's play.

A look at the scorecard on a day where 671 runs were scored with 18 sixes might suggest a day filled with ultimate ODI-level excitement. And there's no doubt the SCG witnessed some breath-taking batting, especially from Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell even if Aaron Finch was the one who set the template with a nicely-compiled century. We also witnessed the return of that all-important ingredient that international sport has felt incomplete without this year - the roar of a live crowd in full blast even if the Sydney Cricket Ground was only filled up to half its total capacity.

They certainly roared when Finch got to his century and raised his bat to acknowledge his late friend, Phillip Hughes. They certainly gasped in awe while Maxwell and Hardik Pandya later put on a display of batting awesomeness. And they screamed the loudest, in delight mostly, when Adam Zampa let slip a high catch off Kohli that he would have snapped up any other day. But through it all, the substandard fielding displays from both teams notwithstanding, there seemed to be a feeling of going through the motions, but very unhurriedly, during what Steve Smith referred to as the "longest 50-over match" he's ever been a part of.

And as international cricket made a long-awaited comeback to what it considered to be its normal before all hell broke loose in the world, it felt like everyone involved, including the game itself, were still dusting off the rustiness and the apathy that it had been engulfed in owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. That a majority of the players involved in the match were coming off rather restrictive quarantine periods either home or away, didn't help either.

India bowled and fielded like a team who had spent the last two weeks in a bubble. Then they batted like a team who wanted to blast their way out of that bubble rather than easing themselves out of it. They faltered on both counts.

The bowling was erratic at best. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami started decently with the new-balls but just couldn't maintain the same level of intensity or consistency thereafter. Navdeep Saini was guilty of committing that one error that a number of Indian pacers before him have on their maiden outings on Australian soil. He kept pitching the ball too short on a SCG pitch that was in some ways aptly lethargic to go with everything else and it kept sitting up for the likes of Finch and Smith to slap away through square-leg or backward point.

SCG screamed its loudest, in delight mostly, when Adam Zampa let slip a high catch off Kohli

Yuzvendra Chahal never found his rhythm or the right pace for the conditions, and much to Kohli's repeated disappointment, kept dishing out very generous offerings to the batsmen, eventually finishing up with the most expensive ODI figures for an Indian spinner of 0/89 in 10 overs. Ravindra Jadeja too never settled down, and wasn't allowed to either by Smith, who produced arguably his finest ODI knock to date.

Though David Warner and Finch put on 156 for the first wicket, they never looked at their best while they were together. The strokeplay was good but not eye-catching as is the case with these two. The running between the wickets was filled with miscommunication, nearly causing a run-out at least three times. There was one occasion in particular where Finch tapped the ball to mid-on and just set off. And he would have been short by nearly half the pitch's length if Jadeja of all fielders hadn't missed a very straightforward direct-hit. It was like watching two partners trying to reconnect after a break where they seemed to have unintentionally grown apart.

It was really from the moment Smith walked out that the cricket really began to pick up in terms of pure quality. He too took off only after getting an lbw decision overturned. But once he did, the batting maestro managed to hold court with some audacious ball-striking before Maxwell came in to steal his thunder with his own display of extreme ingenuity.

The Indian innings started off with perhaps the clearest sign of how the bubble life cobwebs haven't been cleared off by even those who haven't been in one for too long as Mitchell Starc took 11 deliveries to finish his first over, conceding 20 runs. The Indian batsmen meanwhile looked keen to hit their way into some sort of match form rather than trying to get there organically. The 375-run target didn't give them much of a choice either.

Kohli's knock perhaps summed up their mind-set. It was a breezy and very eventful passage of play. There was the dropped chance at fine-leg, three scintillating shots- pick-up shot over the covers, a brutal pull short and a whip that went for six - and a meek dismissal as he tried to charge at Josh Hazlewood and pull him over mid-wicket. Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul were gone before they even broke sweat.

Like with Smith in the Australian innings, it was the arrival of Pandya that really set the stage up. The Aussie fielding wasn't at its brightest for some periods just like with the Indians. And till the time he was there, there wasn't just a faint hope for India to do the improbable, but also enough signs of why they still remain a dangerous team in this format, regardless of the heavy defeat in the opening match.

Perhaps there was a lesson in there too for how these first games out of quarantine should be judged. You'd think teams and players do deserve a bit of leeway and space to be able to find their feet and more importantly their bearings before they get judged fairly for how they perform on the field. As odd as it may sound, it was also a case of players getting back to being in front of 17,000 people cheering and jeering them. Maybe Friday then was just the first step in rebooting the system. And as international cricket looks to slowly find its feet and its momentum back in this rapidly challenging world, so will those playing it.