On too many past occasions have an entire series been lost due to a bad first day. The opening days of such high profile series are that important. And hence, the superb resistance by Cheteshwar Pujara was not only necessary to breathe life into a faltering innings, it was required as an injection of impetus into a supremely awaited series which showed dangerous signs of petering into a no-contest right from day 1….
3 for 1. 19 for 3, including the prize scalp of Virat Kohli. 86 for 5. And finally 250 for 9.
For all the thousands of enthusiasts who have started to follow the action around the world, waking up at all godforsaken hours and straining their sleep-deprived eyes, it is indeed good news. From the brink of total collapse, India recovered to what can be called a decent enough position. The honours can be said to have been shared, although until Australia takes strike we cannot really conclude which way the balance tilts at this moment.
The series is a high voltage one. The anticipation and excitement it has generated during the lead up have been extraordinary. And it would have been tragic if such a high voltage contest petered down to a one-sided mauling inflicted by the hosts as so many modern day cricket series turn out to be.
During the morning, it did look as if the Australian bowlers would run away with the game in very familiar fashion. In such a billing, the first blows have enormous importance. And if from 19 for 3, or 86 for 5, the rest of the Indian batting had collapsed under the pressure, it would have been an uphill task to come back into the series. On too many past occasions have an entire series been lost due to a bad first day.
The opening days of such high profile series are that important.
And hence, the superb resistance by Cheteshwar Pujara was not only necessary to breathe life into a faltering innings, it was required as an injection of impetus into a supremely awaited series which showed dangerous signs of petering into a no-contest right from day one.
It never helps if the visiting team has to play catch up immediately as the action commences.
Also Read: India does not really start as favourites
Pujara, with adequate help first from Rohit Sharma, then from Rishabh Pant and Ravichandran Ashwin, ensured that India go into the second day enjoying a balanced position, if not of dominance, of near-equality.
There were initial moments when the top order, including Kohli, had almost given it away. The four first wickets fell to ill-advised drives, mostly avoidable.
Rohit, mixing judiciousness early on with spectacular counter-attack, could not curb his tendency for too many reckless hoicks and gave away his wicket largely without reason. The familiar shakes of the head followed, with the saddest word ‘what might have been’. That has been the story of Rohit’s Test career.
Pant, after an audaciously flicked six, fell in a rather tame way to Lyon.
India could have done better. Much better. They could have played tighter cricket, taking a leaf out of the book of Pujara’s approach at the other end. But the familiar tale was resurfacing, of a meek surrender at the mere suggestion of unfamiliar conditions and a challenging attack.
Pujara, however, stuck it out. The ball struck the inside edge on numerous occasions, there were some snicks, including a top edge that flew for six over fine leg. But he did make his tenacity count. And the fans glued to their respective television sets around the world should be thankful for that.
The importance of seizing the advantage on the first day was apparent in abundance in the approach of the cricketers themselves. With the tail in, the two pull strokes Pujara played to move from 89 to 99, and then the off-side slash over the infield that sailed over third man for six were evidence enough. There was urgency, a trait that he has often lacked when needed.
In that context, a word, or several, must be spared for the effort of Pat Cummins during the dying stages of the final session. The temperature during the day rose to the late 30s and yet the fast bowlers were remarkable in the disciplined, thoughtful spells they delivered. Cummins had bowled 19 overs already during the scorching day when Josh Hazlewood ran in to send down what was supposed to be the penultimate delivery of a long day.
Pujara at the crease and Pujara dismissed before stumps … the difference was huge. How well the two captains and the two sides would sleep hinged on that single factor. Cummins glimpsed the opportunity, ran in from mid-on, flung himself forward and threw the ball air-borne to effect that stunning direct hit that caught the Indian middle-order man short of his ground. It underlined that even in the last few minutes the Australians were keenly aware of the importance of seizing the initiative back.
The intensity and the zeal in the Aussies were in evidence throughout the day, and the Cummins effort in the final stages just showcased it in a dazzling fashion. They are under the burden of the bans to two big names, but the bowling is as good as ever and their work in the field has been brilliant as well. If some of the batsmen can stand up and deliver, they will be very difficult to beat in their backyard.
On the Indian side, Pujara was perhaps the sole man who countered the focus with his determined effort. And it remains to be seen if the Indian bowlers can deliver here as well, as they have done in South Africa and England in the recent past.
Overall, this has been a superb comeback by the visitors and the resilience has ensured that the match and series proceed on level footing. But, the Cummins brilliance at the last moment underlined that they cannot expect any easy quarter through the tour.
The most important result is that the two teams finish on an approximately equal footing at the end of Day One. This augurs really well for the series.