Usman Khawaja oozed serenity for 611 minutes for his 180, the longest Test innings by an Australian, but without the assistance from the maiden centurion Cameron Green (114), Australia wouldn’t perhaps find themselves at such a strong position at the end of Day 2, ending their first innings on 480.
With spin out of equation on this pitch, India reverted to trying to reprise their old plan against Green that they had successfully employed in Australia. Albeit with Mohammad Siraj. Back then, Green had shown susceptibility to two kinds of deliveries: the one that angled back into him to threaten the lbw, as he could be caught in the crease, just pushing his hands out. And when he would open up his stance to tackle that, Siraj would get one to straighten on a length to take the edge.
And so, they tried it in Ahmedabad.
Green, however, was more than ready. Over the last year, he has already been busy sorting out his set-up at the crease, working with the Western Australian coach Beau Casson, the former left-arm wrist spinner who played for Australia. Against spin, Green has stopped tapping his bat, and keeps it raised in the air in his stance. It seems a simple enough change but Green has spoken about how he used to feel “a bit rushed” before, and now with the change, he feels he has “got a bit more time to play my shots”. And at Ahmedabad, he revealed that Khawaja suggested him to stay beside the line, “play with a straight bat and not get the front leg in the way for lbw”.
It was the pacers, and not spin, who were potentially his bigger challenge on the second day. He negated the lbw threat with a leg-stump guard, opening out a touch as well, and got his bat straight down the line. Admittedly, without Siraj, the sharp nip-backers were largely absent from this attack and on this track, even with Siraj, such a movement was unlikely. Indian seamers kept trying, though, but Green blunted them. Then they tried the straighter one, but he was adept. There were a few instances when he would jab at the ball, without much foot movement, but they were risk-free.
Once, though, the old problem cropped up when he got squared-up to edge a Shami straightener through slips.
The pacers didn’t have the patience, though, to keep hitting the length and see Green block. Like they erred in the final session with the second new ball on the first day, the full balls kept coming – and the tall Green kept plundering them with his crisp off drives. The front shoulder would dip neatly, the hands flowed through, the front leg didn’t tread across, the weight-transfer was smooth – and the delightful drives flowed unabated. Late on the first evening, Shami had him hopping with a couple of bouncers that he gloved from in front of his face, but the ball would fall in untenanted areas.
Against spin, it wasn’t just the ceasing of the bat-tap that has changed but he has worked on it a lot other aspects as was witnessed on turning tracks in Sri Lanka where he biffed a couple of high-quality fifties. The forward strides weren’t too long to force him to play from behind the pad, and he repeatedly got his hands a touch ahead and offered the full bat-face. Not that much turned, but his set-up at the crease was compact enough to disillusion the spinners.
Ashwin did try. He changed his load-ups – switching from doing it from almost his face to down to his chest, and points of release, but didn’t find any chinks. He also came close to the stumps over the wicket on the opening day and tried the straighter ones, but was spanked to the extra-cover boundary. Whenever Jadeja dropped it short, the cut shot was unveiled. India didn’t get the Green they thought they knew from the past.
It didn’t happen by chance, either. Not long after India left their shores, when his first cricketing season as an Australian player came to an end, Green was feeling the blues. The cricket in the pandemic had got to him. And a layer of anxiety had cranked up when he awaited his batting turn. “It’s when you get anxious before you go out to bat, it’s how you calm yourself down and not use too much mental energy before you get out there,” Green once told Cricket.com.au. “Before games when you’re lying in bed, there’s not much you can do, but you can get anxious before games. If there’s any way to calm you down, or before you go out to bat, if there’s anything that can help, in that way that’s what we’re trying to help.”
He sought out a mindfulness coach to address his mental health. They discussed techniques he can use to manage the anxiety while waiting to bat. Green then started meditating and breathing techniques to calm himself down. They also worked on turning negative energy into positive emotions.
He also seems to have developed routines for in-between deliveries. At Ahmedabad, there were a couple that stood out. Every now and then, he would do a little jog at the same spot, and finish by shadow-batting a forward push-drive. Or he would step away from the stumps, stare at a distance at nothing in particular, take deep breaths and again shadow-bat. “I try different routines. Indians don’t give too much time, and it was a hot day; so it was a way to get some breath in,” Green would say with a smile.
He has been around for a couple of years now, but still seems fresh-faced, a touch coy in his interactions, but perhaps all that might change with this hundred. The emotion showed in his celebration: scything his bat through the air. It was a long wait for that first hundred and as he would say “it’s good to have the monkey off the back and I will now feel like a Test cricketer. Test cricket is an incredibly tough game.”
Even before he had made his debut, the former Australian captain Greg Chappell had called him as the “best [Australian] batsman after Ricky Ponting”. Test cricket has been tough, pandemic cricket has been tougher, but the monkey is off and he now can definitely feel like a Test cricketer.