Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
You don't really get worse days in Test cricket than when the opposition has nearly taken a lead, with all their wickets in hand, at the end of the first day. The sledging contest - or banter as David Warner called it - between India's Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma, and Australia's Warner and Ed Cowan was indicative of where the India players are at. They were not at the WACA for sure. Sledged about their batting averages, Kohli and Ishant defended the Indian batting unit by telling the Australia openers it would be a different story when they came to India.
One can only hope the whole India side does not think that way because it suggests they have already conceded this contest. The remarks, Warner said, told Australia that India were resigned to defeat. "In my mind, they think they are bowled over already," Warner said. "The challenge I see for them is they have got to work out how they are going to play outside India. I don't know where Indian cricket is going to be at when [Sachin] Tendulkar and [Rahul] Dravid retire over the next couple of years.
"Time will tell if we win 4-0, or if we win 3-0. Hopefully we can get this Test out of the way. Hopefully we can capitalise on the start we have got and win this Test."
To single out Kohli's sledge on a day on which he top-scored during India's shambolic innings would be to make an easy target of a young batsman playing his seventh Test; but his attitude might point to something intrinsically wrong about the direction this team is headed.
Today's play, believe or not, for a little while, did seem to be headed in the right direction for India. There are spells in Test cricket when you can easily take your eye off the action. Spells when you know nothing is going to happen, when the cricketers appear to be prepared for a post-lunch nap, when the atmosphere is one of contentment from a good meal, of a gentle breeze, of drooping eyes. There isn't much assistance from the pitch at such times, the batsmen look set, the runs trickle, and you can read the newspaper.
During this series, spells like that have only occurred when Australia have been batting. India's innings have been edge-of-the-seat stuff. There is always something happening, or something threatening to happen, which is a credit to the Australian bowling as well. Even when Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid had a 117-run partnership at the MCG, Dravid was edgy, Tendulkar was shutting up shop, and you could not miss a second of the action.
Today, though, India managed to enter a spell of relative calm for a brief while. It was a huge achievement. For the first time in the series there was a period of play when India were batting and there was nothing happening. It happened just after lunch.
Perhaps it was because the wind from the east, the drier variety that helps swing, had died down. Perhaps it was the heat. Perhaps Australia had stepped back a little. But during the first hour after lunch, with Kohli and VVS Laxman batting, you somehow felt India might go through a session without incident. Kohli kept flicking, Laxman struggled but he didn't look like he would get out. Then he cut and pulled boundaries. After the afternoon drinks break, though, Australia picked up the intensity. Kohli's runs dried up, and the loose drive away from the body duly arrived.
That has been the story of this tour. India's batsmen have not spent enough relaxed minutes on the pitch. The bowlers have come hard at them and, except for Tendulkar, most of them are spent by the time they reach a decent score.
Warner explained why India were not able to have prolonged sessions of calm batting. "If you bowl the fifth or sixth stump line [outside off stump], they don't like leaving the ball," Warner said. "They like trying to hit every ball so if we keep them fishing outside off they are going to nick one. And that's exactly what they have been doing."
India lost their best chance of winning a series in Australia in Sydney in 2003-04. Now they have just one finger on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. It won't stay there if they keep thinking about what they will do when teams come to their backyard.