Australians 319 for 1 (Watson 115, Katich 104 retd*) v Indian Board President's XI
The Australians had a satisfactory first day of cricket on their tour of India. Two of their batsmen scored centuries without much fuss, and two others seemed on the way. On a pitch that was expectedly slow, thanks to unseasonal rains until earlier this week, Shane Watson and Simon Katich hardly looked like getting out, and Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke followed suit with an unbroken 87-run partnership. It is unlikely now that Australia will consider splitting Watson and Katich at the top during this tour.
The first day of the game didn't bring any good news for India. Not only did the tourists look in form, India's two Test bowlers - Sreesanth and Pragyan Ojha - bowled 34 overs without a wicket. Apart from bowling 13 unimpressive overs and sliding down the leg side often, Sreesanth let slip four boundaries in the field. The first of those could have been a catch at backward point. The last left him grimacing with a cramp in the calf, and he hobbled off the field, with the new ball just around the corner. However, he is likely to bowl on the second day.
Ojha, too, seemed to have picked a stomach ache in the afternoon session. That Ojha, who was strictly steady, was the pick of the bowlers says how good the day was for the Australians. The only time their balcony looked concerned - and that too mildly - was when a bus tyre went flat outside the stadium with a loud explosion. Even that ended with some in their support staff taking pictures. By then, without any explosiveness, their openers were entrenched in the middle.
Katich, who was quicker than Watson, didn't make the smoothest of starts, though. He had trouble adjusting to the slowness of the pitch, and his bat face closed early on a few occasions when facing the left-arm seamer Jaidev Unadkat. Apart from that, none of three fast bowlers posed any threat. Neither of the openers was made to play straight, and neither was looking to take any risks.
Katich looked more comfortable against spin than Watson. He was quick to late-cut, and flick into the leg side with both spinners turning the ball into his pads. Watson was beaten on a few occasions by Piyush Chawla's legbreaks. Ojha bowled tightly - his 21 overs went for just 23 - and had a couple of close lbw shouts against Watson, but the batsman was well forward on both occasions.
The battle between Ojha and Katich was more interesting. Katich preferred staying back and cutting, Ojha fancied hitting that in-between length and sneaking in through the gap or making Katich play on. Katich did chop a few off the underside edge, but none of them was close to his stumps.
Both the batsmen had reached similar scores at similar strike-rates by lunch, but Katich took the lead after the interval. Just after reaching his fifty, he edged Unadkat twice, first wide of second slip and then just short of him. That, along with a tough run-out chance against Watson, which Wriddhiman Saha missed, was the closest the BP XI came to a wicket.
Tim Nielsen, the coach, realised these two were not going to get out, and took turns to give Clarke, Marcus North, Phil Hughes and Steven Smith throw-downs in the adjoining nets. By the time he returned from the nets, Katich had reached his century and Watson was nearing it. During that middle session, Gautam Gambhir, the home captain, got Ravindra Jadeja to keep signalling towards the dressing room for Ojha to return on the field. "Pet mein dard [Stomach ache]," came the reply. Not that Ojha would have been lining up to bowl.
Watson went to tea five short of his century, and came back with a new partner as the Australians decided that Katich had had enough of a look-in. Perhaps Watson knew the same would happen to him once he reached the hundred, or it was his usual nerves in the 90s, he took 17 more balls to raise three-figures. As he got there with a sweep, he seemed to have done a hamstring. He got back up, though, and opened fire at Chawla, hitting him for 14 runs in the next over. At the end of it, though, he was bowled while going for another boundary.
The others too batted without much trouble. Ponting made a slightly iffy start, not reading the spinners' lengths early, but Chawla let him get away by feeding him two long-hops early on. The first ball Clarke faced on the tour, he jumped out of the crease, got to the pitch of the ball, and then pushed it wide of mid-off for one. There was to be more exemplary footwork later in the innings, when he charged at Chawla and lofted him for a straight boundary. The next ball, he seemed to be charging down again, but transferred his weight back in a flash to cut a slightly flat delivery for four.
The new ball, take for the last four overs of the day, didn't have much impact either, and "retired not out" is likely to be the most favoured way of changing batsmen on the second day.