First Test

India v Australia

Paul Weaver

At Bangalore, October 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 2004. Australia won by 217 runs. Toss: Australia. Test debut: M. J. Clarke.

Gilchrist, leading Australia in place of Ponting, who was recovering from a broken thumb, called heads. The tottering coin was going to fall tails but then hit one of the larger cracks on the crazy-paving pitch and flipped over the other way. The luck would remain with Australia throughout the match but they also played the better and more purposeful cricket. Their approach surprised many. Rejecting the nuclear option that had served them so well in recent years, they relied more on conventional warfare: line and length and crease occupation. They played with patient care, sticking to a game plan that had started to evolve since they lost their last series in this country over three years earlier.

"I didn't know what it was like to lose a Test match when we lost here last time," said Gilchrist. "I think it's good to have a little fear, to know what it feels like to lose and what it takes to win." The player of the match, however, was gloriously unscarred by previous battles. Michael Clarke became the 17th Australian to score a century on his Test debut, and the first since Greg Blewett almost a decade earlier. More than that, he played with real audacity, particularly against the spinners, picking the length early and using his feet to get to the pitch of the ball. The opening day was evenly contested until he and Katich put on 107 for the fifth wicket.

When Australia closed on 316 for five, Clarke was unbeaten on 76, of which 56 had come in boundaries. When he reached 98 on the second morning he replaced his helmet with the baggy green, which he kissed with great emotion when he reached his century. Then, if it was possible, he became even more aggressive, striking Kumble for two sixes over mid-wicket on his way to 151. It took 341 minutes and 248 balls, and included 18 fours and four sixes. Kumble will prefer to recall this match for becoming the ninth bowler and the third spinner to reach 400 Test wickets.

If Clarke's innings swung the game Australia's way it was, as so often, Gilchrist who demoralised the opposition. His 11th Test hundred came from just 103 balls and included 13 fours and three sixes. Kumble and Harbhajan Singh were launched high and hard, and scores of 0, 0, 1 and 1 to finish his last series in India quickly forgotten. Australia's tail was swept away by Harbhajan, who finished with five for 146, but they had scored 474 and were in confident control. When India batted it was Australia's fast bowlers who caused most problems. The ball reversed precociously, helped by the abrasive nature of the pitch, and McGrath and Kasprowicz, who also found cut, exploited this with great skill. India looked out of the match at 150 for six at the end of the second day. On the third, Australia took India's four remaining wickets for 96 runs, though they were held up by an obdurate innings of 46 by the wicket-keeper Patel, who appeared anxious to make up for his maladroitness on the other side of the stumps. Fresh-faced and diminutive and looking even younger than his 19 years - when he toured England in 2002 Alec Stewart asked him whether he bought his pads from Mothercare - Patel batted with fierce concentration for three and a half hours.

India's 246 fell 29 short of the follow-on target. But Australia, perhaps spooked by the ghosts of Kolkata, did not enforce it. Instead, they widened their advantage to 355 runs by the end of the third day. Harbhajan, bowling even better than in the first innings, returned six for 78 in the second as Australia eventually finished on 228, setting India 457, a remote prospect even on a pitch that had not crumbled as many had anticipated. They made an awful start when umpire Bowden, who had an unhappy match, gave Sehwag out lbw despite a thick inside edge. Pathan, who overcame an 87-minute wait on seven to score his maiden Test fifty, put on a defiant 89 for the ninth wicket with Harbhajan, before being given out caught behind - another of the decisions that went against them - and India were bowled out for 239 shortly after lunch on the final day. Green and gold had prevailed over the wonderful silk saris that decorated the concrete of the Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Man of the Match: M. J. Clarke.

© John Wisden & Co
 
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