Australia bowlers choke India with maidens
This series was meant to be a battle between a grand Indian batting line-up and an exciting Australian attack full of promise. After nine days of cricket, that contest has been won by the local bowlers. Comprehensively. The series is still, technically, alive. But by stumps on the first day in Perth, David Warner had his hand poised to pull the plug.
Warner gave the crowd lasting memories with his 69-ball hundred, but it was Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris and Mitchell Starc who really made this Australia's day by dismissing India for 161. Harris and Starc were additions to the side after the victory in Sydney, but it seems not to matter what arrangement of Australia bowlers takes the field this home season. They always do the job.
Nine times from nine innings they have bowled the opposition out this summer, for an average total of 225. Last season, England averaged 409 per innings in the Ashes. That three members of this WACA attack were part of the toothless group that faced England only highlights how far they have come in 12 months. It also serves to emphasise how poor India's batsmen have been.
Those two factors, combined with a green-tinged pitch, encouraged Michael Clarke, the Australia captain, to send the opposition in for the second time in his short captaincy career. For the first time under his leadership and the selection tenure of John Inverarity, a four-man pace attack was employed. Both were calculated gambles, and Clarke is proving more worthy of the "Punter" nickname than the more conservative Ricky Ponting.
Spin might be missed later in the game but more so by India, who also chose to go in without a slow bowler. By leaving out Nathan Lyon, who was handled with ease by India's batsmen in the first two Tests, Australia played to their strengths, and on the first day at the WACA, it worked.
Australia's success was largely due to the pressure they built. Maidens. A build-up of tension that lured batsmen into a stroke, into doing something they shouldn't have, trying to get the scoreboard moving. Seventeen of the 60 overs Australia completed were maidens. Conditions helped them in the morning, but their hard work was really on display after lunch.
As VVS Laxman and Virat Kohli tried to blunt the bowlers with a 68-run partnership, the Australia quicks toiled. They didn't fall into bad habits, which would have been so easy to do. The ball had largely stopped moving but they kept hitting the right lines. Serious width was rare. Loose deliveries were notable because they were so out of the ordinary.
The Australia bowlers kept plugging away at what they call the "fifth or sixth stump line", a corridor in which they feel the India batsmen eventually cannot help themselves from wandering down. It was this line that accounted for both Kohli and Laxman, as they played at deliveries from Siddle that they could have left and were caught trying to get the scoreboard ticking.
After both dismissals Siddle sunk down to the ground, squatting and taking in some deep breaths, a sign of the heat and the physical toll the day was taking on the Australia fast bowlers. At least they had a captain who knew how to rotate his men. The spells became shorter as the day wore on and the bowlers kept stretching, keeping themselves ready for another crack.
The greenest member of the attack, Starc, was reintroduced late and benefited from taking two tail-end wickets. He swung the ball in to the right-handers for most of the day, using the ocean breeze to his advantage. His lines were the most inconsistent of any of the bowlers, but it was not so much as to be costly for the team.
In the morning, Hilfenhaus hooped the ball late, in the manner he has become accustomed to this season. His outswinger that removed Virender Sehwag for a duck was almost perfect, angling in and moving away from an off-stump line, forcing the batsman to play. His remaining three wickets came to nothing shots from the batsman, Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni among them. But it was the consistent pressure he exerted that drew the mistakes.
Hilfenhaus picked up four wickets, Siddle three and Starc two. In his first Test back from injury, Harris managed only one, but it was the big one: Sachin Tendulkar lbw to a ball that nipped in off the seam. Harris went for less than two an over. It could be argued he didn't make the batsmen play enough, but that only increased the need for India to rotate the strike.
Soon after tea, India lost their tenth wicket. Some had fallen to good balls, others to poor shots, but right through the innings Australia kept up the pressure. Again, India's experienced batsmen failed to handle it. It's been happening all series. And the Border-Gavaskar Trophy will slip from their grasp because of it.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo