So jet-lagged were a few Indian players on arrival that some spent the first few days in Melbourne sleeping. It helped that the warm-up match against Victoria was rained off, allowing them a longer rest. And if they were still struggling, there was always Boxing Day, a bank holiday. India normally spend the first day of an away series sleeping and by lunch today they were sleepwalking. What followed was pleasantly shocking and not Indian cricket as we've come to know it.
Nobody should have been surprised at the opening. Once the toss and national anthems were done, the scorers might as well have given Australia a head-start before the first ball. There was a buzz around the ground but India were taking their time. In the tenth over of the day, RP Singh, just crunched past point for four, was asking for another slip. But he seemed the only one awake at the time; Phil Jaques promptly edged the next one through the vacant fourth-slip region.
India seem to have replaced their poor travelers tag with one of poor starters. Series-opening days for India on tour are full of butterflies. Take out Virender Sehwag's mayhem in Multan and you have a forgettable record for the Indian team. West Indies began the 2002 series with 270 for 4 on the first day in Georgetown, England managed 257 for 4 at Lord's, Australia smacked 262 for 2 in Brisbane four years ago, Pakistan piled up 326 for 2 in Lahore and England settled into 268 for 4 at Lord's earlier this year. Things aren't that different when India bat first: 187 all out in Galle, 161 in Wellington, 241 in St John's, and 156 for 5 in Johannesburg.
At lunch today, Anil Kumble might have been wishing he'd won the toss but there was some comfort in the logic that it's better to slip up on the field rather than collapse with the bat. Also, he could always bring himself on, peg away and irritate. He had his googlies, toppies, and legbreaks to bank on. More importantly, he had been in this position all his life.
India returned from lunch revived - fittingly, given that their countrymen were waking up back home. Kumble set the alarm bells ringing with a fizzing googly past Jaques before Zaheer Khan, slicing through Ricky Ponting's defences, showed he was wide awake as well. Kumble then accounted for Mike Hussey with another googly, probably his best ball of the day. The ground was buzzing. Yuvraj Singh was bouncing up and down at point. India had finally arrived, not only in body but also in mind. Australia had dealt the early blow, India were unleashing a counter-punch.
RP Singh wasn't to be left behind. He had missed the previous series against Pakistan and started shakily here but he cranked it up a notch. "Drink, drive, bloody idiot," said a hoarding on the boundary. Michael Clarke couldn't be accused on the first count but he tried to drive a wide one at a wrong time and edged to slip. VVS Laxman's eyes lit up and, crouching low, he snapped up a beauty. This was the sort of cricket India usually play on the second day of the series, fighting back gallantly after being down. Instead they had turned their body clocks a good day ahead. What a difference five-and-a-half hours makes.
It wasn't naked aggression that won India the day (that was left to the two streakers who interrupted the show towards the end) but a controlled, planned, thought-filled approach. Put a short midwicket in for Andrew Symonds, who was swishing wildly, and you had a wicket. Slip in a googly to Adam Gilchrist and you had a wild hoick - a shot that was as ugly as the word itself. India will be thrilled that they've got rid of the first-day blues. There's little more they could have done to earn a wonderful night's sleep.