Ricky Ponting: "For the first few overs today from Ishant, I was trying to be fairly defensive and not play too many shots. He's a bit fitter and stronger now and bowled a good long spell" © Getty Images
Ishant Sharma said at the end of the day that the pitch was slow and difficult to bowl on. Yet you couldn't see it in his opening spell, which evoked memories of Perth and one of the most gripping bowler-batsman duels in recent history.
He loped to the crease, used his tall physique to hit the pitch hard, and tested Ricky Ponting with deliveries that jagged in, and others that bounced and straightened. India had Australia on the defensive during the first hour but after Ishant was finished, the slowness - in the pitch and in their legs - helped Australia settle.
It took Ishant one over to remind everyone, despite the hoopla about Ponting's spin demons, that it was he, and not Harbhajan, who made Ponting fend and swerve in Australia. His fourth ball was full; it swung into Ponting and struck the front pad. Rudi Koertzen correctly ruled that the impact was outside off stump.
The contest approached its crescendo in the eighth over; Ishant had an lbw shout turned down against Ponting - the impact was high - and he followed up with a bouncer that nearly grazed the batsman's nose. Ishant came back strongly after being pulled for four, forcing Ponting's hand off the bat with a rising delivery. He hit the pad once again with an inswinger - this time Ponting did not offer a shot - and beat him on the pull with a delivery that straightened. He went right up to the batsman in his follow-through, perhaps as a reminder that Ponting had to get through him before facing spin.
Ponting drove the rare wide delivery from Ishant through cover but focused on dropping the ball with soft hands in order to get to the other end. The heat of a clear day in Bangalore, and perhaps the need to take a break, prompted Ponting to ask for a change of gloves. At the start of his eighth over Ishant motioned towards the dressing room for a new shirt. He got rid of his sweat-soaked jersey at the end of the over and retired to fine-leg and mid-on for the remainder of the session.
"For the first few overs today from Ishant, I was trying to be fairly defensive and not play too many shots," Ponting said. "He's a bit fitter and stronger now and bowled a good long spell. I was out there nice and early so it was important for me and Simon Katich to get through the period with the new ball without losing too many wickets."
The introduction of spin was the obvious plan against Ponting but the first-day pitch offered no turn. The crowd roared when the ball was given to Harbhajan in anticipation of a swift kill. They had to wait 15 balls for Ponting to get on strike after which they were batted into silence.
A factor that compounded the spinners' ineffectiveness was the inability of the infield to anticipate and cut off singles which did not allow either Harbhajan or Anil Kumble an extended spell at a particular batsman. There were no glaring lapses but the immobility of several fielders in the circle allowed the Australians to implement their "new-age cricket". Gentle nudges a few feet wide off the fielders brought singles and those that found the gap and towards deep point and deep square leg resulted in two.
The Australian batsmen will aim to adopt a similar approach after seeing off the second new ball tomorrow morning. Ishant's opening spell will once again be crucial.