India's young fast-bowling trio have a field day
A year back you wouldn't have thought RP Singh would get a Test. Ditto Irfan Pathan, who seemed to have lost his way after a fine arrival. At the same time Ishant Sharma was taking his first steps in domestic cricket. Here they were, like rookies in a bullring, against the most formidable batting line-up. Australia's batsmen probably thought they were facing India's ODI attack - their innings lasted exactly 50 overs.
They bowled as a team. Pathan swung the new ball as superbly as RP Singh swung the old. Ishant didn't just hit the deck, he also straightened the ball off the narrow. Importantly, they held their nerve during a mid-afternoon lashing. They made the batsmen play more often than their Australian counterparts and did better in partnerships. It was the most heartening pace-bowling effort since Nottingham last year, the last time they won a Test overseas. It was Australia's shortest innings since Nottingham two years earlier, the last time they lost a Test.
The game turned on several pivots but it was the half hour either side of lunch that cracked the contest open. India had lost four quick wickets and Australia went back into the dressing room with a spring in their stride. A new opening combination walked in with an air of expectation. Running in from the Marsh-Lillee end, Pathan didn't just swing the ball to get rid of Chris Rogers and Phil Jaques, he changed the momentum.
Nobody should be surprised with India's young bowlers accepting responsibility readily. Look through the last five years and you have tyro after tyro taking the leap. The problem hasn't been so much about bowlers being intimidated early as about keeping them injury-free. Pathan and L Balaji burst on to the scene sensationally, Sreesanth surprised with seam movement and Munaf with pace. Faisalabad may top a vote among bowlers as the venue to skip but not only did RP Singh debut there, he picked up a Man-of-the-Match award.
Ishant, thrown into the cauldron in Sydney, ended the first day as their most impressive bowler. He ended wicketless but bowled with pace and heart. He showed gumption with the bat, scoring more runs in an innings than he had in his first-class career, and didn't flag through the game. He didn't try anything fancy here, and even showed he possessed the lethal ball that left the right-hander.
Ponting might have received better deliveries in his career but rarely would have been so outfoxed by a 19-year-old. Harbhajan Singh wasn't around but Ishant made sure he did some sort of impersonation of the celebration: running ecstatically towards the dressing-room. "He's learnt which areas one needs to bowl in," Kumble said about Ishant defying expectations. "Look at the way he's bowled in the last two Tests. He's ready to bend his back and looks like he belongs to this arena."
From a purely bowling point of view, this series is pretty neck and neck. Australia have had the more accomplished attack but India's young men have not been cowed down. At the most bowler-friendly surface of the series, they've won the first innings. "They utilised the breeze well," he said, "and bowled with a lot of control. It was commendable to see the way they controlled the swing." RP Singh was asked if he was tempted to pitch the ball short and use the bounce at the WACA to scare the batsmen. His reply came with a smile: "Not really."
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo