Australia v India, 1st Test, Melbourne, 2nd day December 27, 2007

Menacing, miserly and masterly



Brett Lee claimed figures of 4 for 46 in a fiery display of fast bowling © Getty Images
Escaping from high-security prisons must be easier than getting away from Australia's fast bowlers when they are this mean. The legacy of the frugal Glenn McGrath has not only been passed on but it has been expanded in this match by Brett Lee, Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson. Loose deliveries were as rare as cheerful Indian tourists after their side dropped to 196 on a pitch that was more familiar to the visitors than the Australians.

The intention whenever India arrive is to terrorise the batsmen with short-pitched deliveries and feed the cordon with catches. It is a theory that causes pain, but it usually provides opportunities to benefit from attacking fields. This time there have been bruises and not many runs on a surface that has not been supportive of bounce. Australia, who were powered by Lee and inspired by Clark, mixed discipline with high-speed attack and suffocating containment.

Sachin Tendulkar was hit on the ribs when not playing a shot to Lee while Sourav Ganguly was struck on the elbow from a short one from Johnson, and the pain distracted him so much he was almost run out. As the innings wound down, Harbhajan Singh was stung by Lee on the chest, with the batsman flicking the bat away like it was filled with electricity. Worryingly for India, this match is in Melbourne, not Perth, which is still three weeks of nervous sleeps away.

There was also a blow that was painfully symbolic. VVS Laxman might have joined the list of the battered when he wanted to duck a Lee delivery that threatened more bounce than it produced. Seeing the lower trajectory, an already off-balance Laxman decided he had to play rather than wear the ball and fended limply to Ricky Ponting. By the time the catch was taken Laxman was on his back and he can expect more attacks directed at his body for the remainder of the series.

Lee was fierce against the top order and as usual was recharged by the sight of the tail-enders, taking four wickets and giving away only 2.31 runs an over. Johnson was even less generous, although his over-stepping to Rahul Dravid cost him a wicket and ended his opening collection at five consecutive maidens, while Clark was the most penetrative as he curled the ball in the air and off the pitch. Together they were so tight that they left the batsmen with no lasting options for success.

Only Tendulkar and Ganguly were able to respond, but apart from a couple of fine off-side boundaries by Tendulkar from Lee, most of their runs came from Brad Hogg. Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill had been silenced in previous series against India and Hogg was a predictable target. Forty runs came from his first six overs and he had released 75 from 15 when he skidded through Ganguly, who had faced a confusing field which included two close catchers and a deep mid-on and mid-off.

Two wickets provided relief for Hogg and Australia, but the thought of bowling at batsmen who punished him so easily will be a worry before he has to show his worth in the second innings. However, he can rely on support from his fast-bowling team-mates, especially if they repeat this effort. It was an outstanding collective display that will give the tourists more overall concerns than any of Hogg's. India must find an answer if they are to avoid a series of shackles.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo