| Ashish Nehra provided an early breakthrough
Melbourne: The Indian attack was made to look mediocre by Australia’s first-class cricketers as Victoria amassed 348 for five on Wednesday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The visitors got a taste of the tough task in the upcoming Test series on the very second day of their tour-opener as the Victoria batsman, led by Brad Hodge, tore the bowling apart.
Hodge, who has scored 2,300 first-class runs this year including 1,467 runs for Leicestershire, made a swashbuckling unbeaten 153 — his 10th century of the year.
After Sourav Ganguly declared the India innings on the overnight score of 266 for nine, Zaheer Khan & Co. began on a steady note restricting the hosts to 67 for one in the first session.
But that was to be the only quiet session as Hodge, first with Test discard Matthew Elliot and then with Jonathan Moss, launched a fierce attack on Indian bowlers. The Victorians gathered 126 runs between lunch and tea, 155 in the final session.
Victoria were most severe on off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who gave away 117 runs off his 27 overs.
It was an even battle in the morning session as the new bowl operators concentrated on a steady line instead of trying to generate pace.
Ashish Nehra, playing only his third game after a long injury lay-off, gave the visitors an early breakthrough when he made opener Jason Arneberger (8) edge an outgoing delivery to Rahul Dravid in the slips.
Hodge, who joined Elliott (48), ensured there were no more casualities in the pre-lunch session. Elliott was unlucky to fall two runs short of his half-century as Akash Chopra held on to a sharp chance at silly point off Harbhajan.
This brought together Hodge and Moss, and the two took full advantage of the error-prone Indian attack.
The Hodge-Moss stand realised 107 runs in just 135 balls. Moss’ 42 came off 72 balls in 88 minutes and included six fours.
It was a brilliant piece of fielding by Harbhajan, off his own bowling, which led to Moss’ dismissal. The batsman came down the track and drove the ball back to the off-spinner, who picked it up and disturbed the stumps with a fine direct hit.
But Hodge continued to play his strokes and picked Harbhajan for special treatment, even going down on his knees to smack him from outside the off-stump over mid-wicket for a six.
India were a trifle unfortunate not to have seen the back of Hodge soon after he completed his century. He drove Nehra delivery away from his body and Harbhajan took a nicely judged ‘catch’ in the covers, only to find the umpire signal a no-ball.
The Indians were really pounded in the final session as Hodge and ODI team member Ian Harvey dealt only in boundaries on a wicket which became slower and slower, offering bowlers very little help.
Hodge and Harvey completed a century stand for the sixth wicket in just 107 minutes. As the Victorian batsmen flowed into their strokes, India’s fielding became more ragged with overthrows and misfields being the rule rather than exception.