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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Australia on top for most of day but India claw back

Australia 4/254 (R Ponting 123, S Katich 66) v India: First Test Day 1 at Bangalore

A day of quintessential Test cricket . The highlight was a determined century from Ricky Ponting, his first in a Test in India, which, while not without a little good fortune, took Australia to a comfortable position only for the Indian bowlers, who had started to look tired, to claw back two late wickets to leave honours more or less even.

Australia, who IMO wisely preferred Cameron White to Jason Krezja, won the toss and, also wisely, chose to bat.

India won the first round when Zaheer Khan had Matthew Hayden adjudged caught behind for a duck in the first over. Replays suggested that he may not have hit the ball but it was a tough call for the umpire. Enter Ponting to join Simon Katich. Zaheer and Ishant Sharma were hostile for a while but couldn't break through, India had no third pace bowler so the spinners were on before lunch when Australia were 1/75 and both Ponting and Katich looking more comfortable.

They continued in similar vein in the middle session, occasionally miscueing (as when Ponting almost edged Sharma onto the stumps) but gradually asserting themselves. Ponting played some of his trademark pulls, including two lofted ones (a 4 and what looked to me like a 6, though the scorecard says otherwise) to mid wicket from Harbhajan Singh. Just before tea, when Indian shoulders were beginning to droop, Katich edged Sharma to the keeper for a 66 (149b, 7x4) which justified his selection ahead of Phil Jacques (who was nonetheless unlucky not to keep his place).

After tea Ponting proceeded to what for some time had seemed an inevitable century. Once past that milestone he put his head down again, defending determinedly, hitting the bad and occasional not so bad ball, and sometimes playing a false shot, as when he was fortunate to be reprieved from what looked on the replay like a return catch to his opposite number Anil Kumble. Mike Hussey also took his time to come to terms with the the conditions but he hung on and became increasingly assured.

Harbhajan was steady but not menacing for most of the day and Ponting seemed to have his measure until he was lbw to an injudicious shot: 3/226. His 123 (243b, 13x4) had provided a solid platform for the innings as well as answering those who had pointed to his poor record in India.

Had Hussey and Michael Clarke stayed together until stumps Australia would clearly have had the better of the day, but the vice-captain was lbw to Zaheer to complete a day bookended by India's (and Zaheer's) successes at its beginning and end.

The Indian attack generally persevered and, apart from a period in the last session when it looked like wilting (Kumble probably did wilt), made the Australians concentrate hard. Even so the team looked a front line bowler short: only Virender Sehwag's four tidy enough overs relieved the front line men. Perhaps he needs to bowl more in the series.

Australia will be wanting - and need - to make many more runs to give their bowlers a good chance of working through the strong Indian top batting order. India will first of all need to confine the Australians to a total of less than 400 and then to pile on the runs themselves before the wicket, which has already showed some uneven bounce, deteriorates further.

I shall be watching closely from my couch tomorrow.


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