Sublime Martyn leads the way
Australia 362 for 7 (Martyn 114, Clarke 73*, Lehmann 70) v India
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Some strange soul brought a banner into the VCA Stadium in Nagpur that read, "A cheerful loser is a winner". Neither of these teams had any sympathy for that sentiment. The first day of the third Test between India and Australia was bitterly fought, with both sides playing intense, determined cricket, desperate to end the day with an advantage. The Aussies, on 362 for 7, had the upper hand at close of play thanks to Damien Martyn's ninth Test century, but the Indians were still emphatically in the hunt.
All day, memorable things happened. To start with, Rahul Dravid walked out to toss, and handed Adam Gilchrist a teamsheet that lacked the names of Sourav Ganguly (groin strain) and Harbhajan Singh (flu). Gilchrist won the toss and chose to bat on a much-hyped pitch that he described as "almost Australian-looking". And an Australian-looking start ensued, as Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden added a quick 67, before India struck back with three wickets.
Australia, praised during this tour for having replaced aggression with attrition, then counter-attacked furiously, as Martyn and Darren Lehmann added 148 off 181 balls. Martyn completed his second century in successive innings, but the Indians fought back once more with a flurry of late wickets. But Michael Clarke, with a flamboyant 73 not out, turned things around again.
The highlight of the day was Martyn's 114. Combining a craftsman's patience with an artist's flair, Martyn constructed his fourth century in the subcontinent this year. Whether stepping out and driving, or rocking back and cutting, he was always assured and confident. He began quietly before lunch, as, joined by Lehmann, he began a reconstruction of the Australian innings. A demolition of the Indian bowling followed after the break.
Anil Kumble had tormented Australia at Chennai, but Martyn and Lehmann smashed him out of the attack shortly after lunch, with 21 runs in the space of two overs. Kumble didn't bowl for the rest of that session. Lehmann hustled and bustled, moving around at the crease, charging the spinners often, and evoking Javed Miandad with his inventive strokeplay. His 70 came off just 83 balls, and his dismissal, caught by Dravid off Murali Kartik, brought an even more exciting strokeplayer in Clarke to the crease.
Of the bowlers only Zaheer Khan bowled with venom all day, but he was unlucky throughout, with many edges falling short of fielders, or going over their heads. Kartik, unafraid to give the ball air, got into his groove in the second half of the day, picking up three wickets. Ajit Agarkar was inconsistent, while Kumble, going at almost four an over, was attacked by batsmen undeterred by the damage he had caused in the last Test.
Martyn's graceful innings eventaully came to an end when he tried to hit Kumble out of the attack for the second time in the day. He stepped out and smashed him for a massive six over long-off, but holed out next ball trying to repeat the shot. Kartik then deceived both Gilchrist and Shane Warne, but Parthiv Patel's keeping prevented further breakthroughs.
Patel reprieved Clarke twice, first missing a straightforward stumping off Kumble, then dropping a regulation catch off Zaheer. He fumbled many collections through the day, his body wasn't moving fluidly enough, his eyes went off the ball at times, and he often appeared to be more of a soccer goalkeeper than a cricket wicketkeeper, blocking rather than collecting. Even Dravid, who normally comforts him after his errors, berated him after that last drop, as the young man's nightmare got steadily worse. With the kind of rope he has been given so far, he could build a bridge to Colombo.
Earlier, it hadn't taken long for worries about the pitch to be allayed. Ganguly had reportedly battled, in vain, with the curator of the ground in an effort to get him to shave the grass off. There was little in it to worry the batsmen, though. The bounce was even, the pace was good, and the ball came on to the bat in a manner to suit strokeplayers. Zaheer and Agarkar obtained a fair amount of lateral movement in the first hour, but the early breakthrough eluded them, as Langer (44) and Hayden (23) brought up yet another fifty partnership. Zaheer accounted for both of them in his second spell with wonderful away-going balls, then Kumble had Simon Katich caught at bat-pad for 4 (86 for 3).
That brought Martyn and Lehmann together at the crease. Attrition? What's that?
Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India. He writes the cricket blog, 23 Yards, for this site.