Canberra: Stiffness, jet-lag, an ankle in need of re-strapping, or just micro-management on the part of Duncan Fletcher? Theories abounded as to the reason for Ishant Sharma bowling only 5.3 overs on the first day of India's opening tour match against a Cricket Australia Chairman's XI in Canberra, the most notable episode in a forgettable start for the tourists.
An uncertain 2 for 45 after being sent in to bat by the acting Indian captain Rahul Dravid, the local XI ultimately reached a bountiful 6 for 398, led by dashing centuries from Wes Robinson and Tom Cooper. Umesh Yadav was the most incisive of the visiting bowlers, striking once in the first session and twice at the end in gathering gloom. They were watched by the CA chairman Wally Edwards, while the Prime Minister Julia Gillard's partner Tim Mathieson was also in attendance to observe Ishant's enigmatic introduction to the summer of 2011-12.
Taking the new ball on a sleepy surface at Manuka Oval, Ishant went off the field twice in the space of his brief spell, and after his second exit midway through his sixth over, did not return. An Indian team official explained that Ishant had only planned to deliver six overs for the day, and when his ankle strapping came loose before it was concluded, he felt no need to return. Ishant was seen on the field later, but only to help run the drinks.
As a tall fast bowler still recovering from the duration of the flight to Australia plus a four-hour bus trip into Canberra, Ishant was understandably below his best, and will take time to find his rhythm over the course of the week. There is sound reasoning for India to monitor Ishant's left ankle carefully, given the debate about whether or not he required ankle surgery to repair ligament damage he sustained in the third Test against England at Edgbaston in August.
In Ishant's absence the rest toiled without much success against studious batting by the West Australian Robinson and the more attractive strokes of South Australia's Cooper. Robinson showed more flair the further his innings went on, following Cooper's example and ultimately blooming in a stand of 226. Pragyan Ojha and Vinay Kumar were on the receiving end of the most aggressive strokes, though no member of the bowling attack shone too brightly against batsmen largely considered surplus to the requirements of the imminent Big Bash League.
Yadav enjoyed early success when he had the Chairman's XI captain Ryan Broad edging behind to Wriddhiman Saha, and Ojha's subtle variations of pace and flight proved too much for Joe Burns, bowled on the back foot by a flatter delivery. But the afternoon session passed without another wicket, as Robinson and Cooper built momentum against an attack that called on eight bowlers.
A solid 2 for 186 at the tea interval, Robinson and Cooper accelerated with vigour on resumption, swatting boundaries to all parts. Ojha was subjected to particularly heavy punishment to return 2 for 149 from 25.3 overs. Robinson swung Ojha to the leg-side boundary no fewer than five times before he perished in the attempt to add a sixth.
Alex Doolan provided unobtrusive company as Cooper reached his century, but both he and Glenn Maxwell were beaten on the crease by Yadav in light that became increasingly murky. Dean Solway, a Canberra product, edged Vinay behind shortly before the close.
Cooper's display was both pleasant and authoritative, demonstrating why he is now being watched by the national selectors as a possible contender for the Australian side.