Amid all the unknowns awaiting both sides in the inaugural Test match at the cavernous Perth Stadium, Marcus Harris stared down one of a most personal batting nature when he took guard to face the opening over of the first morning.
In a first-class career as an opening batsman that has spanned 70 matches, Harris had never faced the first ball of a match, habitually taking up his post at the non-striker's end until a run was scored or the second over began. But with Aaron Finch - a relative top-order novice - as his partner and Ishant Sharma having twice created early troubles for the right-hander, Harris chose to part with seven years of habit to place himself as the primary bulwark against the new ball.
As a decision and a gesture it spoke of selflessness and teamwork, reflecting that in the strange new world of Australian cricket after Newlands, it was possible to have a 26-year-old in Harris taking a leadership role in relation to a 32-year-old in Finch, while also facing a challenge he had never met before himself. Whether to do with Harris' left-handedness, Ishant's residual soreness from his Adelaide exertions, or the combination of a glaring sun and a fresh pitch, the move worked grandly: the over passed without batting incident, and both Harris and Finch went on from there to form a 112-run stand that should only grow in importance as the match goes on.
Unquestionably, India's pacemen did not start well, varying lines and lengths far too much despite the assistance available in the pitch, and allowing Harris and Finch to cruise to 45 without loss in the first hour. By the time they improved their radars after drinks, Harris and Finch were established, and even while finding batting increasingly difficult, they were able to survive well into the second session. As the Australian bowling coach David Saker put it:
"You're wanting to hit the top of the stumps as many times as you can, so you've just got to try to find a fuller length," he told Seven. "If you're bringing batsmen forward on any wicket you're always a chance and that's the one thing India haven't done this morning is bring us forward as much as they did in Adelaide and probably haven't been as consistent.
"You could also say the batting has been better so it's put a bit of pressure on the opposition, but you're just trying to bring the batsman forward as much as you can. If they're playing off the back foot they've got time to leave the ball, the ball's generally going over the stumps so it needs a batsman error to get out. If we're to get the wickets then you need to bring them forward probably everywhere in the world."
And even though the balance of the Australian batting order squandered starts - four of them, Harris included, were out playing variations of the cut shot - their strong start and collective contributions allowed Tim Paine and Pat Cummins to contemplate taking the hosts to 350 and beyond on the second morning. It had all started with Harris and Finch resolving to switch around their opening formula in the first Test, as Finch dropped down from No. 1 to No. 2. Harris' sure-footed start, blooming into an innings speckled with 10 elegant boundaries warmly received by a crowd of 20,641, provided ample evidence the right call had been made.
"Sometimes you've got to change it up, don't you! I asked him if he wanted to take it in his first Test and he said no, I said 'well now you've played one Test you can have it'," Finch joked. "There was none of that chat, with Ishant first up he was happy to take the first ball.
"I think what everyone's seen from him so far, not a lot fazes him, he's a pretty chilled out character, who just goes with the flow and that's the way he's always been. He's a great guy, but I think the tightness of his technique, covers his off stump, looks to hit down the ground and for such a short guy that can be quite unique at times. He's definitely got all the shots, but I think the way he adapts his game and his game plan depending on the wicket, depending on the attack, I think that'll hold him in great stead."
As team-mates for state as well as country, Finch and Harris have been able to establish a rapport even though, prior to Adelaide, they had never opened together. "When you have a good relationship with somebody that stuff takes care of itself," Finch said. "Whether it's been over the last few years with Victoria, whether you're having a beer at the bar and you're chatting about cricket or whether you're out training and talking technique or strategy or different movement patterns - it's all just building up a relationship and we have got along really well for a few years now.
"Batting out in the middle is always good fun with him, he keeps it pretty simple pretty relaxed, we just keep reminding each other to focus on what our game plan is and what our strengths are."
How valuable the Harris-Finch union will be shall become clearer as the game evolves, with so little known about a venue that has hosted only one previous first-class match, between Western Australia and New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield earlier this summer. But that small sample size alone provided reason for Australian optimism: their stumps tally of 6 for 277 is already the highest innings tally at the venue, besting the Blues' ultimately match-winning 261.
And as Harris himself recalled in the lead-up to this match, the evenness of an undermanned Australia and a seasoned India, cancelling out the conditional advantages usually able to help the hosts win comfortably, means that every player must find ways to contribute as much as possible. "I think it got down to 30 runs," he had said of the Adelaide loss. "I know when I looked at it as a batter I thought 'I wish I could've got 60 or 70', so we got pretty close."
In taking the first ball and then going on to the score he had wished for himself in Adelaide, Harris possibly took a giant leap towards a long and fruitful Test career.