It started promisingly with the Australian captain courageously deciding to bat first. It must have been tempting to send India in, given that the Indian batsmen are known to be slow-starters on away tours... and slower still in difficult conditions. And the first hour was difficult... even though the Indian bowlers could not take maximum advantage of it!
But after the toss, the day was a bit of an anti-climax. There had been so much talk about the contest between hosts' bowling v/s. the visitors' batting (as is the norm before almost every Indian tour outside the sub-continent) that watching the contest other way round felt a bit drab.
The recovered-ankle duo opened India's attack... and might I say, gingerly! At Lord's earlier this year, Zaheer Khan had used two bouncers in his short and interrupted bowling spell. The first one had been under-edged by Strauss, and the second one was top-edged and caught at deep fine leg. Here at MCG, the first attempt at a bouncer came by the first-change bowler Umesh Yadav. And it was answered emphatically by David Warner.
So it was nice to see Yadav bang one in short straightaway after that small rain break... and he got his reward! Shaun Marsh fell soon, and Ponting got a knock to his head and fell down thrice at the crease before finding some sort of a rhythm in his batting. And all this while, almost invisibly, Ed Cowan ensured that he had gotten his eye in on his Test debut.
Then came the change in momentum. Australia consolidated with Cowan and Ponting, before someone whispered to Ishant Sharma that they were playing in Australia. He sent down an impressive spell before Yadav got Ponting caught at slip. Another brief fightback by Australia ensued before Zaheer Khan came in for a spell with the old ball.
It was Dhoni's most important throw of dice. As Cowan admitted in the press conference later, they were looking forward to blunt that Zaheer Khan spell and be right on top at the end of the day. But as Zaheer had done for India through the World Cup, he made the old ball count. A mini-collapse (which shall be debated for other reasons too) later, Australia found their Nos. 7 and 8 at the crease. Surprisingly, both Haddin and Siddle played out the day obstinately... making it a case of honours even at the end of Day 1.
A few thoughts on certain performances that made the cricket on this Boxing Day at MCG peculiar for me...
Ed Cowan looked compact and impressive. However, I did think that his judgment of the off-stump was not the best during the first session. Off his may leaves, there were a few in the opening hour that were far too close for comfort! So either he knew exactly where his off-stump was, in which case he must have nerves of steel... or the more likely tale would be that he was indeed jittery, but managed to get through that period and capitalise with a fine 68.
Ricky Ponting, without a doubt, started in jitters. Hit on the helmet early on, three of his first few leg-side shots made him lose balance and stumble at the crease, but he also got the runs at the same time. It was uncomfortable watching him bat that way, but it made for compelling viewing from my living room!
Umesh Yadav had India's best bowling figures today... but by no means was he the best Indian bowler on show! I thought he had been picked for his pacy stump-length bowling... but today, his lengths moved all around. His wickets came from a short ball, a full ball and a short-of-a-length ball. A couple more tomorrow from a length ball and from a yorker length ball would complete the entire set for him!
Zaheer Khan lasted the entire day. And he looked fit enough to last at least a few more! Every time he stretched his hamstring, I moved a little towards the edge of my seat... as if he was a time bomb ready to explode in a thriller! When he fell after having stopped a straight drive off his bowling with his left boot, I gulped and heaved a small sigh of relief when he got up with no apparent damage. But his old-ball spell was brilliant to watch. Working Clarke over, sending a snorter to Hussey, and then making Cowan fall on his back - all in the same over with an old ball. That was brilliant to watch!
While the cricket today was good in parts, there was nothing extraordinary! Maybe, it is quite unfair to expect something extraordinary on the very first day of the series, especially given that the hosts are batting and visitors bowling... but one drab day such as this surely increases the anticipation for the next day, for as Ravi Shastri would say "I just get the feeling that something's got to give here!"
Only The Beard Knows
12 hours ago