India bowlers take assistance from the air

R Ashwin ended with one wicket which was down to a bit of drift into the left-handed Shaun Marsh Associated Press

After all the pre-match fuss about the Ranchi pitch, it felt somehow appropriate that Australia lost their first wicket of the first morning to a full toss. That too after their openers had added 50 at more than five an over, relishing the ball coming on to the bat and then speeding away over a hard, downhill-sloping outfield.

"India," ESPNcricinfo's Jarrod Kimber tweeted, "have now doctored the air above the pitch to get Warner's wicket."

Over the course of a day during which an unusually dark-coloured but otherwise perfectly normal first-day pitch gave India's bowlers little help by way of acute turn or up-and-down bounce or indifferent pace, it was the air to which they kept turning for assistance.

Umesh Yadav, their most consistent threat through the day, began finding reverse swing as early as the 21st over, swerving the ball into Steven Smith's stumps and bowling to him with catchers at short midwicket and short mid-on.

He struck in his next over, getting the ball to straighten away from the left-handed Matt Renshaw to induce an edge to slip. It was not extravagant movement, and Renshaw did himself no favours by playing away from his body, but it was enough.

Then, having already had one lbw shout turned down against Peter Handscomb, Umesh had one immediately upheld when he struck the batsman's front foot on the full with an inswinging yorker. Handscomb's front leg had moved across to cover the initial line, and ended up planted fatally in front of the stumps when the ball changed course.

Umesh and Ishant Sharma kept reversing the ball through the remainder of the day, kept coming in at the stumps, but Smith, his front leg almost never getting in the way of his downswing, kept their best balls out without a fuss. Glenn Maxwell survived a couple of lbw shouts - the closest one off an Ishant no-ball - but was otherwise not unduly distressed. The reverse was persistent but never extravagant.

It wasn't enough of a weapon, perhaps, to force open Australia's batting line-up, but it kept them in check. Having conceded a combined 37 runs in seven overs in their first spells, they went on to bowl a further 27 overs and pick up two wickets while giving away 72 at 2.66 an over. A pretty decent performance given how friendly the pitch and outfield were being to the batsmen, and given that they bowled a significant chunk of their overs to a pair of batsmen who went to stumps batting on 117 and 82.

The spinners, denied the lavish turn of Pune or the iffy bounce of Bengaluru, tried to beat the batsmen in the air, varying their pace and angles constantly. R Ashwin ended up with one wicket in 23 overs, and that wicket was down to a bit of drift into the left-handed Shaun Marsh. Stretching forward to defend the initial line of the ball, Marsh ended up playing down the wrong line and offering short leg a sharp chance off inside edge and pad.

There were a few more instances of Ashwin deceiving batsmen with drift - it forced Smith into driving away from his body on a couple of occasions, but he compensated by rolling his wrists over and keeping the ball down - but it wasn't a frequent occurrence.

In general, Ashwin has not seemed to drift the ball in as pronounced a manner through this series as he did in earlier parts of India's home season. But he kept trying various things - varying his pace, getting more side-on in his load-up position, bowling from exaggeratedly close to the stumps - without making too much of an impact.

Ravindra Jadeja, meanwhile, ended the day as India's most economical bowler by far, going at 2.66 over the course of 30 overs despite only bowling three maidens. He took the wicket of Warner but against Smith and Maxwell he eventually moved to bowling a negative, outside-leg line.

When we hear that a spinner deceived a batsman in the air, we usually picture a flighted ball dipping six inches shorter than expected. Spinners, though, can also deceive batsmen by making them go back when they should be on the front foot. Both Jadeja and Ashwin did this to Maxwell, frequently, in the early part of his innings.

Playing for the flatter trajectory of Ashwin and Jadeja's quicker balls rather than their length, Maxwell kept going on the back foot and getting himself into dangerous positions. He faced three such balls from Ashwin while batting on 5. He jabbed his bat down hurriedly to keep two of them out, and survived an lbw appeal on the other occasion with the ball slightly off-line, turning down the leg side. Maxwell kept playing back to Jadeja as well, bringing his bat down just in time to keep out two successive quicker ones while batting on 30.

This was as close as either spinner got to breaking the Smith-Maxwell partnership. Once set, both became surer with their footwork, and there was little Ashwin or Jadeja could do but plug away and hope for an error. It was that kind of day, but by the end of it, India's bowlers, with a little help from the air above the pitch, ensured the game hadn't slipped entirely out of their control.