Australian cricket came back in from the cold. Literally and metaphorically. Under a relentless azure sky in searing heat Australia’s three-pronged pace attack blew away India’s top order to leave the tourists reeling at 5/86.
A resolute century from Cheteshwar Pujara stabilised India’s innings. Given the question mark over Australia’s batting, I believe the match is evenly poised at the end of the first day with India reaching 9/250.
India elected to bat after Virat Kohli won the toss. The pitch contained no demons and in ordinary circumstances, the team batting first would regard 400 as essential to exert any degree of scoreboard pressure. But these are not ordinary times and the Indians confected demons in their own minds. The first four dismissals were all due to poor shot selection by batsmen indecisively pushing outside the off stump. Kohli, the hinge of India’s batting order edged to Usman Khawaja, who snared an extraordinary catch at second slip.
Unlike its Ashes-winning pace attack, ably supported by Nathan Lyon it is difficult to gauge this Australian top order. It may be that 250 is more respectable than is normally the case here.
Ultimately it was an absorbing day of cricket to open the Border- Gavaskar Trophy series. For Australia, there were some encouraging signs. The pace bowlers generated consistent speed all day in a sustained display of menace underpinned by magnificent athleticism. Their average speed over the first 25 overs was 142.87 Kph. And that speed seemed to surprise the Indians who had not been exposed to first class pace bowling using the Kookaburra ball. They looked underprepared, under pressure and unnerved.
Having collapsed to 5-56 India would be content to have occupied the crease all day and kept the Australians in the field in sapping conditions. The discipline and judicious shot selection of Pujara was an eloquent rebuke to his teammates who squandered a good toss. None was more culpable than Rohit Sharna who played a scintillating cameo only to obligingly hole out to Marcus Harris. He had cleared the rope with his previous shot and threw his wicket away trying to repeat the dose.
After day one it seems clear that Mitchell Starc Pat Cummins and Josh Hazelwood are capable of rattling the Indian top order. After a winter of discontent, it could have been much worse for the home team. And for India, it should have been much better.