India v Australia, 4th Test, Delhi, 1st day March 22, 2013

Opening day conforms to the series script

There's been a similarity to tactics and outcomes right through this series. The first day in Delhi was no different, but will the remainder of this Test also conform?

Glorious uncertainties, please shut the door as you leave. The 2013 India-Australia series is being played for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy of the Predictive Path.

On the first day of the final Test at the Feroz Shah Kotla, it didn't matter who was in charge, who was playing, and who had done their homework or not. Australia won the toss, Australia batted and Australia had a top-order collapse that left them on 136 for 7.

David Warner slashes before the ground staff have had their first cup of relaxing tea. R Ashwin comes on in the ninth over, bowls a batsman around his legs on the sweep. Ravindra Jadeja has the Australian captain stumped after he rushed out of his crease. The tail holds firm for a few hours; there is no sign of Bhuvneshwar Kumar until the new ball. Been there, done that, happy to do that again.

No wonder Mitchell Johnson was left standing at his crease after having being bowled. It was more than just the carrom ball stuff. Johnson probably imagined he was caught in a time warp.

Australia end on 231 for 8, their lower order having gathered shreds of collective pride as they left the field on day one.

India treads the predictive path with metronomic foreboding, their captain MS Dhoni in his element, and with complete confidence because this is the environment ideally suited for him to be captaining from recent memory. If it ain't been rattled, never mind broken, he sure ain't fixing it.

Australia had gone in to lunch on 94 for 2. Ed Cowan and Shane Watson's determination to bat on was so fierce that their jaws could be seen clenched and their gritting of teeth heard even 90 yards away in the stands. After the break, Dhoni produced his most popular partnership-breaking trick.

In the course of an hour, he made four rapid bowling changes and was left with four wickets in his pocket. He shuffled his bowlers like a gambler does a pack of cards before picking out the trumps.

Ashwin bowled the first over after lunch and his line altered slightly to middle and leg, inviting on-side play, trying to turn Cowan square and disoriented against the spin. It took three eventful overs from Ashwin and Cowan, who had spent more than two hours sweating bullets, finally went for it. His sweep missed the line of the ball, which rattled on to hit the stumps. As he left, he looked ready to drive his bat into the ground in misery.

Two overs later, with Steven Smith at the crease, Ashwin was set aside and Ravindra Jadeja brought on for the first time, in the 37th over of the innings. On a pitch that was putting on quite a performance, who knows what Jadeja's tightly contained bowling could have done earlier.

He bowled seven balls at Watson, pushing him onto the back foot, inviting circumspect defence and no runs. Captain of Australia one Test match after being benched, Watson would have no more defending. He jumped out at Jadeja, and as it has done all series, the predictive path continued. Somewhere up in the dressing room, Clarke had no doubt closed his eyes. The ball turned and zipped past Watson's advancing bat and the stumping was completed.

The arrival of left-hand batsman Mathew Wade had Dhoni removing Jadeja from the attack, despite figures of 2-0-5-1, and bringing back Ashwin. Dhoni loves bowling offspinners to left-handers and it worked for the Indians as Wade was given caught at bat-pad on the fifth ball. From a distance, Wade's detachment from the appeal was the only sign that perhaps he had not hit it. Television showed that he had not.

The departure of Wade marked the departure of Ashwin, after a single over, Dhoni's spinning around the Indian bowling certainly made the Australian batsmen dizzy. Jadeja returned and within three overs had the attacking Glenn Maxwell caught heaving to Ishant at mid-on. Naturally, when the left-hand Mitchell Johnson turned up, so did Ashwin. Then came the mind-altering carrom ball that so stunned Johnson, who thought he'd been stumped when he'd actually been bowled.

There is, however, an element that could add a kink to the predictive path. It lies in what the Kotla pitch is going to do on the weekend, when crowds are expected to start filling in because India are batting. Before play began it looked like a piece of parched earth that had been through 180 overs of batting. When play did begin, it acted like an irritated snake whose hibernation was being repeatedly interrupted. It leapt at Philips Hughes' helmet, bit at Smith's ankles and had choked the Australian top order before the tailenders held together.

This is not going to be a high-scoring game, there's an excellent chance it could end in four days. On the weekend we will know if the predictive nature of the Border-Gavaskar trophy will abruptly end here.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ken on March 23, 2013, 12:18 GMT

    Of course these pitches are outrageously doctored, but I notice when India visits Australia they generally play on pitches with a lush green lawn on them - I bet that wouldn't happen if India had even halfway decent pace bowlers. Australia currently doesn't have any Test standard spinners, so the Indians have prepared pitches accordingly. They wouldn't have done it when Warne was playing.

    In the long run, though, preparing pitches as extreme as these actually hurts the home team by making them unprepared for more normal pitches when they travel. They're are not pitches calculated to teach young pace bowlers how to land it on the seam just outside off stump for ball after ball.

  • Mark on March 23, 2013, 7:05 GMT

    @Jayaraman Lalgudi the whole point of playing on doctored pitches is to create an unfair advantage. This whole series has had doctored pitches. If you think this is fair because both teams are playing on it , look up the definition of "doctored pitches". This is not a fluke it is deliberate and therefore doctored. Pitch doctoring is uncommon in England, SA, NZ, Aus, UAE. Therefore very frustrating for teams expecting fair play.

  • Dummy4 on March 23, 2013, 6:40 GMT

    I can see the frustration of Int.Curator on congratulating the curators sarcastically. Please understand:

    a) Both teams play on the same wicket, and there is no point blaming the wicket b) Australia have had the huge advantage of batting first ib all matches c) Good teams should learn to bat and bowl on all types of wickets d) Bowling at 150k + and hitting the batsman all over the body is not the only way to play cricket e) India did not blame the Aussie curators, or wickets, when they lost 4-0 f) Good teams learn from defeats and do m\not look for lame excuses

  • Mark on March 23, 2013, 5:28 GMT

    BCCI would like to congratulate first and foremost the curators for a most successful series. It takes a lot of effort to prepare uneven, rough, exploding, dry and unpredictable pitches. Well done boys. Special thanks to the Australian team for not once mentioning the poor state of the pitches and fulfilling their lucrative contracts. And lastly to the Indian cricket team who played their part. Hip, Hip Hor........y.

  • babi on March 23, 2013, 1:39 GMT

    It looked like a drought hit pitch. It is such an ugly patch that it could have been dedicated in honor of any of the politicians in Delhi. Is this how an international venue is prepared? If DDCA cannot prepare it then they better bring in a matting wicket. I don't know if the intent was to make the Indian bowlers look like superstars and Dhoni a genius , it seemed to work.

  • Abhinav on March 22, 2013, 21:42 GMT

    @Sanjith - True mate! However I don't think any quick bowler in world cricket leans on yorkers anymore!! Bowling yorkers seems to have become a lost art. The Wasims/Waqars/Donalds have taken the art away with their retirements.

    What about Kumble/Murali/Warne et al cleaning up tails regularly and efficiently? With the pitch behaving the way it did on Day 1, I am surprised that Ashwin and co. could not trick Siddle and Pattison in false shots.

  • Mervin on March 22, 2013, 20:06 GMT

    I think I have a partial solution to Australia's miseries - Let the tailenders bat first, since the top 6 cannot bat spin bowling.Then they might be able to post at least 400 runs. Australia will never win a match with this slow batting. No one wants to attach the bowling, afraid of getting out and loose his place on the side. That is why India has the "vice grip" on them, because they play only defensive cricket. 5 or ten runs in 50 balls is totally unacceptable. Hope this will change in the Ashes.

  • Sanjay on March 22, 2013, 19:09 GMT

    It's the job of the "speedsters" to clean up the tail, history shows that the quick men worry tailenders far more than the spinners against whom they fancy a swing. When the ball is spinning appreciably, you actually have to have some ability to edge it, the tailenders are safe as long as the ball isn't hitting the stumps.

    It's bewildering that our pacemen can't serve up a mix of short pitched deliveries with yorkers. This is the 1st game in which I've seen Ishant pitching the ball up, it's taken him 50 Tests to figure it out. Once he closes in on a 100 Tests, we should see the yorker in his armoury. But let's give credit to Siddle, Pattinso, Starc et al, they have genuine batting ability. It's refreshing to see Bhuneshwar too can wield a willow, an exception to the sad rule of Indian tail end batsmen.

  • Dummy4 on March 22, 2013, 19:04 GMT

    Congratulations Ms Sharda on winning such an award. I had read your earlier articles too and was thrilled to hear the news yesterday morning. This one is great too. I think India might have played into the hands of the Aussies by preparing such a dodgy pitch. Of course, we will have to wait and watch what happens on Day 2. That IMHO will decide which way the match goes.

  • Dummy4 on March 22, 2013, 19:02 GMT

    @abhinavpraneet India not being able to bowl out the tail has been an issue for a very long time. India should have been batting by now except neither seamer has the pace to go for the yorker which should be able to get most tailenders out almost every time

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