Ponting, Steve Waugh turn Indian joy to despair
Spectacularly stern middle and late order batting resistance has been the defining feature of this summer of cricket for the home team and so it proved again today on the first day of the First Test between Australia and India here at the Adelaide Oval. After they had once more looked to be courting disaster on the back of failures from four members of their upper order, the Australians found it within themselves to mount yet another stunning reversal of fortune through the last two sessions of this opening bout of the series, finishing the day at 5/298 after they had looked consigned to concluding at a significantly less flattering scoreline.
Following on from monumental partnerships in each of the previous two Tests of the season, it was Ricky Ponting (125) and Steve Waugh (117*) who stole the lion's share of the accolades today. Joining together to post an all time record fifth wicket association for their nation in Tests against India, Ponting and Waugh were in irresistible form throughout a liaison of 239 runs for the fifth wicket - one which lifted their team from a state of peril to one of almost complete command. Whilst they did survive the odd moment of anxiety (indeed, replays appeared to suggest that the former was caught behind off Ajit Agarkar as he underedged a pull with his score on 62; Rahul Dravid at mid off failed to run out Waugh on 67 as he attempted a ridiculous single; and VVS Laxman at second slip grassed a chance to catch Ponting off Agarkar on 90), theirs was a tremendous effort. In combination, they surpassed the unbeaten 223 added by Sir Donald Bradman and Arthur Morris at Melbourne in 1947/48 and such was the conviction of their display that few would have begrudged their rearrangement of the mark.
On a pitch which seemed to be offering more encouragement to bowlers than is traditionally the case in Adelaide, Ponting and Waugh each started slowly before accelerating their scoring, some of their strokeplay (and their use of the short square boundaries at this picturesque ground) delightful to behold. Although they benefited significantly from some strange tactics from the Indians immediately after the lunch break (part time medium pacer Saurav Ganguly surprisingly preferred to Venkatesh Prasad and Anil Kumble when his team possessed some strong momentum), little credit could be taken away from their double act. Ponting was the chief aggressor, registering his sixth Test century and his second in succession with a fine mixture of front foot drives and back foot strokes through the point and mid wicket regions. Waugh, however, lost little by comparison as he set about adding a century of his own, many shots behind the wicket evident in his 21st Test century - a milestone which now ensures that he has made at least one century against each of the world's other Test nations.
Through the pre-lunch period, though, the story had been a substantially different one. India indeed began brilliantly, capturing four wickets inside the first 90 minutes of the day for the meagre tally of just 52 runs. In eerily similar fashion to the last Test played between the teams at this venue as many as eight years ago, Australia plunged to the position of 76 for four after winning the toss, only nine runs in advance in fact of their plight all those summers ago.
Essentially, it was a morning for India's pacemen and, more specifically, Prasad and Javagal Srinath. Srinath established his team's early position of dominance, capitalising on the early life evident in the pitch by operating upon a tight, disciplined line and length. He made a crucial early strike - dismissing local hero Greg Blewett (4) in just the third over of the day - and continued to beat the bat throughout. On either side of Ganguly's dismissal of the belligerent Michael Slater (28), Prasad then conceived a tremendous eight over spell from the River Torrens End. Illustrating much the same control and accuracy as had been exhibited by Srinath, Prasad refused to bowl too short, and gained due reward for the strategy when he trapped a somewhat unluckily inside edging Justin Langer (11) on his crease and then induced a still struggling Mark Waugh (5) to thick edge a ball through to wicketkeeper MSK Prasad.
In such circumstances, it seemed that the Indians merely needed to maintain their concentration and the same metronomically accurate line and length to continue to hold the upper hand. However, they let things slip in the period immediately after lunch, and lost their way rapidly throughout the subsequent course of that session. As both their bowlers and fieldsmen surrendered the enthusiasm that had graced their play through the early moments of the day, it became virtually no contest thereafter and it was instructive that the mix-up that saw Ponting finally run out in the shadows of stumps seemed as much of a surprise to the visitors as it did to a crowd of over 15,000 largely appreciative fans.