It was advantage no one as the first day of the opening Test between India and Australia came to an end at Mohali. Both teams had their chances to gain the ascendancy however could not capitalize on their good starts, allowing the opposition to claw back into the game. First, India got the early breakthrough, but were well below par in the field, dropping crucial catches.
Suresh Raina, who was not only electric in the field but also effected the run-out of Ricky Ponting at a vital stage, was the sole exception. The home sides fielding woes allowed Australia to get away, and they looked set to march on to a sizeable first innings total. It did not help that Ishant Sharma, bowled numerous no balls, one of which was a wicket-taking delivery before leaving the field with a knee injury. It was only proficient late burst by Zaheer Khan, who scalped three of the five wickets to fall, that ensured India ended the day on a high.
Australia, on the other hand, would be disappointed at having lost a golden opportunity to begin the series on a high. They may have lost Simon Katich early, but the in-form Shane Watson, in the company of skipper Ponting, had set the perfect platform for the visiting team. Aided by some insipid bowling by the Indians in the morning and afternoon session, the duo made merry. Indians looked down in the dumps when Raina produced an athletic bit of fielding to catch the Australian captain short of his crease. It wasn’t a spectacular effort by Raina’s standards, but stood out on a day when the dropping catches had become the norm. It also sent a strong signal into the opposition camp that there is one man they can’t take lightly on the field, else they would have to pay dearly.
Ponting left the scene fuming and although Zaheer’s needling was far from obligatory, the reactions from both men went on to show how much the dismissal meant to their respective sides. And, as if to prove a point, Australia stuttered towards the close of play from thereon while Indians bowlers tightened their grip and also claimed three more crucial scalps. All this while Watson held one end up rather cautiously as he registered his third century on Indian soil in consecutive innings, following up on his two tons in the practice game.
While Watson played a rather mature hand, keeping himself in check throughout, unlike the flashy batsman he is known to be, it also signified Australia’s quagmire. Not only Watson, but the entire Aussie middle-order adopted this unexpected approach following Ponting’s dismissal. The only difference was that while the opener was successful, the rest got trapped and succumbed to the pressure created by the Indian bowlers in the latter half of the day, unable to execute what was planned.
One of the reasons for Australia’s defensive approach might have been the lack of confidence in the latter batsmen. While Michael Hussey is still very good, his consistency has dropped lately. This aspect was evident at Mohali. Even as he tried his best to fight through, he eventually couldn’t last long enough to make a substantial contribution. And even though Marcus North got a century in the game the other day at Chandigarh, his consistency at the Test level doesn’t make him reliable as yet. It did not help Australia that their vice-captain and someone who has done fantastically well against India in the past, Michael Clarke, also had to endure a rare failure.
As the day drew to a close with runs drying down and a couple wickets going down, the faces of a seething Ponting and an upbeat Zaheer sprung back to mind. If a picture had to tell the story of the day, that was it. The task in front of both teams is rather straightforward in a sense. The Aussies need to keep fighting, albeit with a little bit of positive intent. Remember Watson is still out there and the Australian tail is renowned for producing fortune-changing partnerships. For India, their aim should be to wrap up the Australian innings as soon as possible, more so since they have lost the services of Ishant Sharma. If the batting side keeps them on the field for long, the other three main bowlers will have to shoulder extra burden, which isn’t the ideal situation. Additionally, the bowling needs better support from the other fielders, and not just Raina, who was undoubtedly the star of the day.
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