Australia v India, 1st Test, Melbourne, 1st day December 26, 2011

Not a bad first day for poor starters

It was a day when both teams' weaker suits - Australia's batting and India's bowling - came face to face, and India didn't come out looking out of place

On long hard tours, you need days when you are not at your best but come out unscathed. India had one of those days today. It is not to say that India didn't create opportunities, but there were also spells where they lacked inspiration.

In England every such day left them with scars. On the contrary, here they have the opposition at 6 for 277 after they had chosen to bat first on a slow track that had its moments, a bit like the India attack. It's a score India can be happy about after a wayward middle session when they dished up too many short deliveries. It's also a score that will irk them after they had had Australia down at 6 for 214. It's a score the significance of which depends a lot on how their bowlers, fresh on the second morning, do with a ball that is only nine overs old.

This wasn't a day of the spectacular for India. Zaheer Khan operated within himself in the first spell, letting debutant Ed Cowan leave a lot of balls, at the same time troubling the more adventurous David Warner. He was ordinary in the second spell, bowling bouncers to Ricky Ponting at gentle pace, but the thing about Zaheer is, you cannot feel sure about him until he has bowled his last over of the day. His burst late in the day, when he got the ball to move away from Michael Clarke, from round the stumps, with a 64-over old ball, following it up with two wickets in two deliveries, was reminiscent of the World Cup tie against England where he turned an ordinary night around in two overs. The absence of the Decision Review System notwithstanding, that 65th over was acknowledged later by Cowan too.

Umesh Yadav is fast emerging as an impact bowler. He can go for runs because he bowls quick and attacks the stumps, but he can produce wicket-taking deliveries purely with his pace. These are early days in Yadav's career, but the signs are good. Today he was the first to break the non-violence pact between the bowlers and openers. He was the first bowler Cowan and Warner took on. He was the first to make inroads.

Two balls after Warner had dismissively pulled him over midwicket for a six, Yadav came back with a quicker bouncer, beating the batsman for pace. That is a rare sight for an India quick, and it came in front of 70,000. That ended a 46-run first-wicket stand, but the pricklier partnership was the one for the third wicket, worth 113, when Australia could sense they were running away. Back came Yadav, from the Members End this time, and had a well-settled Ponting inside three deliveries. Again it was pace and bounce that left Ponting uncertain, and pace and slight seam that took the edge.

Facing the press after the day, Yadav seemed more nervous in front of about 30 people than when he worked Ponting out in front of 70,000. He said he tried to bowl fuller than he does in India, and he would have preferred to go for fewer runs. Ishant Sharma went for fewer, and not through defence. He actually was the pick of the India bowlers, pulling Australia back after runs flowed uncontrollably in the second session. He bowled with most control, and looked the most threatening. That he got no wickets keeps in with the script of the day.

India still had a chance to come out of the first day as clear leaders after that Zaheer burst, but MS Dhoni welcomed Brad Haddin with a long-on, deep midwicket, and fine leg, a field setting that suggests 5 for 400 and not 5 for 205. Haddin and Peter Siddle got the space to breathe, and ensured not a wicket fell for 21.5 overs. The criticism of such captaincy is obvious, but these moves are not thoughtless.

India's is a four-man attack, it was a long day, and in such situations at 6 for 214, Dhoni prefers to come back at 6 for 260 as opposed to 8 for 310 in an attempt to bowl them out for 250. That's how modern captains work, and we aren't exactly running out of time in Tests nowadays. The bowlers will be fresh on the second morning, the ball still new, and India will have a second bite at the cherry.

It was a day when both teams' weaker suits - Australia's batting and India's bowling - came face to face, and India didn't come out looking out of place. For a side notorious for poor first days, India would have taken 6 for 277 with all six specialist batsmen gone had you offered them that at the start.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shanmugam on December 27, 2011, 1:25 GMT

    I watched couple of Umesh Yadav spells yesterday and I ought to say that it looks like India have found a really good pace bowler. The Warner wicket came courtesy of a good bouncer and the delivery that got him Ponting's wicket was a real beauty. He was a little off color today but he is young and will learn. No idea why Indian fans hype ordinary bowlers like Sharma instead of bright young talents like Umesh. Of course, I learn that Sharma was one such prospect on his last tour here but quickly went off the boil and now looks very ordinary. Hope, for India's sake, that Umesh doesn't go the same way.

  • Naresh on December 27, 2011, 1:05 GMT

    Ishant bowled well without any wickets. I feel he needs to use his head and setup his dismissals like Zaks does.The sooner Ishant gets into wicket taking mode the better for India in this series. Zaks, Ashwin and Yadav have been great.

  • andrews on December 27, 2011, 0:49 GMT

    Fascinating call on Dhoni's tactics. Do captains not realize that you are giving away easy runs by adopting defensive field settings. Haddin was ultra-cautious, and could have been really throttled by more intelligent field settings. How can you say it is more likely to bowl a side out for 250 from 6 fro 214 if you go all defensive? At any rate, you are not going to bowl them out for 250 if you have then 6 for 260. Baffling.

  • Neil on December 26, 2011, 23:54 GMT

    I understand your concern Nampally that, " It was a pity that Haddin's LBW( looked plumb) off ZAK was disallowed," but perhaps Haddin wouldn't have even been batting if there weren't 2 incorrect decisions made earlier. Not complaining about the standard of the umpiring....they were difficult calls (the catches that is) At first glance I would have given both of them out as well. Maybe you should have a talk to the BBCI and MS Dhoni about using the DRS. It is breathtaking that Indian cricket can continue to be blind to the benefits of DRS and even more breathtaking that the ICC allows them to run the show on this issue. It isn't perfect by any means, but it is a lot closer to perfect than what happened yesterday. Sure, I agree that often things "even out" over the course of a series without the DRS, but I can recall plenty of close series where the final result may have gone the other way if incorrect decisions were allowed to be challenged.

  • Oh on December 26, 2011, 23:40 GMT

    Yadav is more expensive than a trip to Harrods! England are licking their lips!

  • disco on December 26, 2011, 22:53 GMT

    When we were still debating DRS, decisions like the Hussey howler and Cowan's dismissal would just be hypothetical. However now that DRS is established, used, tested and approved of, the Hussey and Cowan dismissals are not hypothetical any longer in the sense that we all know that they would have been reversed if the BCCI were not allowed to ruin cricket for the fans. Probably depriving Cowan of a deserved 100 at least. It's likely that Haddin's non dismissal would not even be an issue as he wouldn't have been batting most likely. It's a sad day for cricket that fans who want to see a fair contest will be hoping for equally bad game changing decisions against the Indians.

  • Kishore on December 26, 2011, 21:50 GMT

    poor starters?? what is the meaning of poor starters?

  • Rahul on December 26, 2011, 20:05 GMT

    I'm listening to Alice in Chains. Epic Team India will conjure up some magic, like the magical Layne Staley.

  • Ashok on December 26, 2011, 19:44 GMT

    India again failed to run thru' the tail. Haddin & Siddle in a 63 run 7th wicket stand is a clear indication of failure to finish the job. Yadev did a great job in getting the first 3 wkts. when frustration was setting in. But Ishant failed to take any wkts. despite accurate bowling & all the hype. ZAK came back strongly late in the day to take 2 wkts. in 2 balls. It was a pity that Haddin's LBW( looked plumb) off ZAK was disallowed. But the worst was Dhoni's decision to remove ZAK from the attack & put Ashwin to give away unnecessary runs - a no-brainer!. What was Dhoni thinking? This was really the turning point of the match. Had India got the Aussies for <250, it would have given India a chance to clinch the match. But with a total >300, this game is likely heading for draw - unless in an unlikely scenario of India getting >500 in the first innings. On the other hand, if India do not bat well they can lose. The expectation is India will get around 350 to 400.

  • Harish on December 26, 2011, 18:19 GMT

    This is absolutely a letter by letter precise observation on the day's play and the two teams. No single piece of these comments can be termed as out of place in this article. Made a very interesting reading than the day's play itself.

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