Watson stands in way of fighting India
Day 1 Australia 224 for 5 (Watson 101*, Ponting 71, Zaheer 3-45) v India
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
India turned a bad morning into a bright afternoon despite the committed effort of Shane Watson, who collected his third century in a week. Watson, who posted twin hundreds in the tour game, survived two chances in delivering the sort of performance expected of a specialist opener, not one Australia have manufactured over the past year.
Despite Watson's calm 101 on the opening day, the visitors are far from safe at 224 for 5 after a stinging late burst from Zaheer Khan, India's only fit paceman following a knee injury to Ishant Sharma. Zaheer, who was steaming in the second session during a confrontation with Ricky Ponting, gained his second lbw when he picked up Michael Hussey (17) with a reverse-swinging delivery and followed up by clipping Marcus North's off stump when he tried to leave on 0.
Zaheer finished with 3 for 45 off 16 overs to continue the fine recovery by a side that was struggling badly over the first half of the day. The locals would have been happier had MS Dhoni, who returned from the Champions League Twenty20 two days ago, caught a regulation chance off Tim Paine (1 not out).
On a pitch with low bounce and gaining in turn, Watson began in an aggressive mood but toned down once Ponting and Michael Clarke departed before tea, leaving the tourists at an uncomfortable 172 for 3. Until Ponting's departure for 71, Australia had been the ones in control but his run-out forced a change of pace, and Watson started grinding towards three-figures.
There was no rush from Watson as the Indian spinners delivered tight spells in the afternoon and were called on for more work following Ishant's departure after 7.4 overs. Only 45 runs were scored in the final session as the ball softened and the spinners closed in against the defensive Watson, Clarke and Hussey.
Watson has spent some gut-wrenching periods in the nineties during his 21 Tests, but he stayed calm and crept up on a rewarding second century. The milestone came with a legside clip for two off Harbhajan Singh and he stayed until the end, capturing eight fours from his 279 balls. It was a performance that bettered the 78 he made at the same ground two years ago, an innings that showed he could succeed when grit was required.
Watson and Ponting had survived some scares and overcame the early loss of Simon Katich (6) in their stabilising 141-run stand. The two-Test series began with Virender Sehwag's second-ball drop of Watson, who was also missed by Dhoni on 37, while Ponting benefitted from Ishant's over-stepping when glancing behind.
Ponting returned the charity after responding tardily to Watson's call for a single and was run out by Suresh Raina's smart direct hit from midwicket. The third umpire was required to decide Ponting's fate after his mostly composed innings, but as he walked past the fielders he was called out by Zaheer in the first flashpoint of the series. The taunts resulted in the captain changing direction and walking towards the huddle for a short exchange.
It was the fourth time Ponting, 35, had been caught short in Tests since going to England last year and the type of dismissal was particularly frustrating given the strong position of his team. Until that point it was India who had been unnecessarily generous with dropped catches, missed run-out chances and a flood of eight no-balls from Ishant.
India went in with four specialist bowlers, but only two were fast men, so Ishant's injured knee was another concerning development, especially as Harbhajan had to pass a fitness test in the morning. The lack of firepower could harm the hosts for the remainder of the game, but not if Zaheer continues weaving the ball late.
India's initial difficulty was eased by Raina's brilliant throw and the scoring-rate quickly dropped as Watson and Clarke added 18 at 1.5 an over against the spinners. Clarke then tried to cut a wider ball from Harbhajan and edged to Rahul Dravid at first slip.
Harbhajan was much more dangerous after lunch, slowing the runs and creating some half-chances in his 1 for 69 off 29 overs, and the pitch will help the slow men more as the game wears on. Pragyan Ojha, the left-arm orthodox spinner, also played an important role, rarely allowing an attacking option, as he gave away 39 runs in 31 overs. After a strong start the signs are already worrying for Australia, even though their opponents are possibly a man short.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo