They are two teams trying to move away from an unsure present into a more settled future. India and Australia produced cricket befitting that common thread on the opening day of the first Test at the MA Chidambaram stadium here on Friday.
Despite winning two sessions on the day, Australia wouldn’t be entirely happy after a less than assured show by their top-order batsmen, and Indians, though won the middle session, too would be an embittered lot as only R Ashwin, who returned with a six-wicket haul, looked capable of taking a wicket.
Skipper Michael Clarke’s unbeaten hundred (103 n.o.) and his obdurate 151-run stand with debutant Moises Henriques, who made a composed fifty, helped Australia reach 316 for seven at close after electing to bat. Despite their sixth-wicket alliance offering a compelling theme to write upon, Indians’ inefficiency – barring Ashwin – with the ball was more glaring on the day.
Australian openers David Warner, who made a scratchy fifty, and Ed Cowan began in a confident fashion adding 64 runs in just over 14 overs, and it required Ashwin’s guile to snap the partnership. For once, the Tamil Nadu man focused on the traditional strengths of an off-spinner like off-breaks and flight than his variations like carom ball and the one that is delivered from back of the hand.
Cowan, who had smashed Harbhajan Singh for a six in the previous over, couldn’t resist the temptation as Ashwin tossed one up for him, but the left-hander couldn’t negotiate the extra dip while coming down the wicket for MS Dhoni to complete an easy stumping.
Once they ended the barnstorming of Warner and Cowan, India clawed back into the game through Ashwin, who kept the visitors in check with regular blows. Australia lost Phil Hughes, Warner, Shane Watson and Mathew Wade for 89 runs, the last three in the post-lunch session, to Ashwin and at 153 for five they were in grave danger of getting bowled out for a low total. But as they have done many times in the past, Australia discovered perfect men for the situation. Clarke and Henriques blunted Indian attack for 42.2 overs with batting of high degree.
But it was also an indication of the ineffectiveness of Indian bowlers. Once Ashwin was given a well-deserved rest there was no one in the Indian bowling line-up to challenge Clarke, who was extremely fortunate to see umpire Kumar Dharmasena rejecting an appeal for a bat-pad catch off Ashwin, and Henriques. But Clarke exploited that big slice of fortune to optimum, bringing up his 23rd Test hundred, in the process also exposing the hollowness in this Indian attack.
Playing in his 100th Test Harbhajan, who was introduced as early as in the sixth over of the day, was expected to produce something more worthy than his end of the day spell of 19-1-71-0, but all he could do on the big day was to bowl either short or pitching on the leg allowing the batsmen to take some easy runs.
Ravindra Jadeja, the third spinner in this line-up, didn’t go for as many runs as Harbhajan, but the Australian pair easily warded off the Saurashtra left-arm spinner with him not varying his pace often. There was not much spin on the wicket, but apart from Ashwin the other two tweakers couldn’t exploit the reasonable bounce on offer at Chepauk, a major factor in Australia nosing ahead on the opening day.
The pacers too were directionless, compounding the woes of Indian skipper MS Dhoni. Ishant Sharma gave too much width on the off-stump, and Australian batsmen, who are generally adept in cut shot, were more than happy to cash in on the freebies. Debutant Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who came in for Pragyan Ojha, got some reverse swing in the last session, but at his pace, barely touching 130 kmph, it wasn’t going to threaten the Australians.
Clarke and Henriques could have built an unbeaten partnership but the latter opted for a sweep shot off Ashwin, and fell leg before. But by then he had ensured that Australia had reached a relatively strong position.