Katich and Clarke revive Australia
Australia 316 for 5 (Katich 81, Clarke 76*, Kumble 3-86) v India
Simon Katich and Michael Clarke gave Australia the edge with some attractive strokeplay in the final session, after Anil Kumble - who became only the ninth player in history to reach 400 wickets - had caused a jitter midway through the afternoon on the opening day of one of the most eagerly anticipated series in recent times. Backed by a vociferous home crowd, Kumble helped reduce Australia to 149 for 4, but with India leaking 139 runs in the final session, it was the Aussies that walked off with the day's honours.
Clarke used his feet beautifully to combat India's slow bowlers, and showed tremendous maturity and flair on his Test debut. He often came down the track to Kumble, lofting him for one mighty six straight down the ground, and also dismissed anything pitched short with ease. With Adam Gilchrist for company, he took the bowling apart as the bowlers wilted in the final hour.
The revival, though, had come earlier in the afternoon, with Katich's splendid 81 leading the way. He was like a master at the snooker table, the angle at which the ball was hit as important as the power imparted. There were no crashing shots that singed the grass but just gentle, silken strokes played with lithe wrists.
Katich came in after Matthew Hayden fell for 26, lofting a sweep straight to Yuvraj Singh at square leg (52 for 1). He got going by creaming Kumble through the covers, but soon after lunch, he was completely flummoxed by an offbreak from Harbhajan Singh. Unfortunately for India, Parthiv Patel couldn't get his gloves around the ball. There was another semi-reprieve when he edged Zaheer Khan behind the stumps, but the replays of Patel's collection were inconclusive, and Katich was given the benefit of the doubt.
Despite losing wickets at the other end, as batsmen struggled against Kumble, Katich didn't retreat into a shell. His placement fetched him twos and threes, and he brought up 50 in 104 balls, and, along with Clarke, pulled Australia out of a tricky situation. When he got to 81, Katich misjudged the bounce of a short one, which managed to wriggle through his defences to crash into the stumps. The crowd erupted instantly as the team huddled around Kumble, who had toiled for much of the afternoon without success after a double strike an hour after lunch.
Compared to Katich and Clarke, Justin Langer was edgy throughout his stay. After surviving a huge appeal for lbw off the first ball of the match, he misread a few short ones and copped blows on the back and chest. He was nearly run out in the 16th over when he danced down the pitch to Harbhajan and deflected the ball straight to short leg, where Aakash Chopra failed to complete the flick back on to the stumps. After lunch, Langer edged both Harbhajan and Kumble wide of the first slip.
In between these strokes of fortune, there were some crisp sweeps and pushes straight down the ground. He brought up his 50 from 116 balls, but couldn't keep out Irfan Pathan when he came back for his second spell, and a searing yorker deflected off his pads to uproot the off stump (124 for 2).
The crank was revved up in that spell from Pathan as he consistently clocked 85mph while intelligently varying both swing and length. After an economical first spell, when he prevented the customary Australian flyer, this was the much-needed tourniquet that helped Kumble thrive. And Kumble pounced instantly as Damien Martyn was undone by extra bounce as he danced down the track. The ball popped from bat onto pad for Chopra to complete a simple catch (129 for 3).
Darren Lehmann's cameo of 17 was a nervous innings, as several uppish shots fell beyond the fielders' grasp. A skyer over mid-on fell inches from Pathan's grasp, and three cracking fours soon after added insult to injury. But an ugly heave at Kumble took the edge and Dravid lapped up the catch at first slip (149 for 4).
Katich's wicket, after he and Clarke had added 107, gave India a boost, but Gilchrist and Clarke wrested back the initiative with a dashing partnership. Gilchrist cut the very first ball he faced from Harbhajan for four, as if putting to rest all the nightmares of 2001. He raced to 35 at more than a run a ball as the fielders were left to chase shadows in every direction.
Australia ended the day slightly better off, but they will know, better than anyone else, that Kumble still retains the ability to wreck even the most sturdy of fortresses.