India’s batsmen found new ways to get out on Day 1 of the first Test at Adelaide as Australia grabbed the advantage at close of play. India ended the day on 250-9, thanks largely to a brilliantly composed 123 by Cheteshwar Pujara. He got some good support from the lower order after the top order fell cheaply.
Earlier in the day, Kohli elected to bat after winning the toss on a day when temperatures hit 39 Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) but things didn’t quite go according to plan as India found ways to lose regular wickets through the day.
Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins were good no doubt but in hindsight, the Indian team management will be disappointed with the shot selection of their batsmen. When all the talk was about trying to play out the first hour, India were guilty of perhaps playing one shot too many.
The average speed of Australia’s bowling in the first ten overs was 144.46kph. That’s the fastest they’ve bowled with the new ball in over 12 months - indeed, since the last time they played at Adelaide. They were clearly up for the challenge and India’s tentative response was completely at odds with everything that Kohli has talked about.
KL Rahul, who has been struggling for runs, flopped again. He was caught by Aaron Finch at third slip off Hazlewood for two. The ball was wide and he could have well left it alone but he went for it half-heartedly.
Murali Vijay, in the side after young gun Prithvi Shaw suffered ankle ligament damage in a warm-up game, didn’t last much longer, caught behind by skipper Tim Paine of Starc for 11. He played for the inswing but the ball didn’t come back in as much as he thought it would.
Kohli was in next, much earlier than he would have wanted to. The crowd greeted him with a huge roar, but a stunning catch by Usman Khawaja at gully off a Pat Cummins delivery saw him back in the pavilion for only three off 16 balls.
Australia’s bowlers had consistently bowled wide off the off-stump to Kohli, trying to entice him into the drive and it worked. Kohli would have made a note of this. The series is just beginning.
A little later, Ajinkya Rahane was guilty of the same mistake. It was once again full and wide and the batsman went for his shot and only got an edge.
At lunch, India were 56-4.
India needed Rohit Sharma and Pujara to hang around and for a while, they did just that. Rohit left the good deliveries alone, stayed circumspect when he needed to and batted with the kind of determination that Kohli would have hoped he had.
But then just as things were starting to get easier for him – he inexplicably gave it away. Nathan Lyon was in the middle of a nice spell. The Indian batsmen had come out trying to target him but he had more than held his own.
Hitting the spinner out of the attack would have meant that Australia’s fast bowlers wouldn’t get enough rest and that would come back to haunt them later in the match. But he was on the mark and smart enough to use the opportunity that attacking shots afford.
Rohit was looking very good. A six over cover off Cummins showed he was in the zone. But he then barely managed to Lyon for a six over backward square-leg. He was almost caught on the boundary line by Marcus Harris. Now, normally a shot like that would have seen a batsman take guard again.
But no, that’s not how Rohit plays. He decided he wanted to go one better. But instead, he holed out to Harris off the very next ball. It was a good 37 off 61 for Rohit but this was clearly an opportunity to make so many more runs. He needed the runs and so did his team.
Rishabh Pant came out and continued to play in the same manner. Aggression is his middle name but doesn’t the match situation have any bearing on how he bats? Lyon got him with a beauty but for once the batsmen didn’t play a poor shot. He was outdone, after making 25, by a good delivery.
Batting conditions became much better, the pitch eased out and the bowlers had to deal with the heat as well. Perfect conditions for the batsmen to take control and that is exactly what Pujara and R Ashwin did. They put together 62 runs; vital runs given the state of the innings.
The partnership helped India put up what many would consider to be at least a defendable total. The calmness with which Ashwin and Pujara went about their partnership showed that patience could have taken the Indian team a long way in good batting conditions. India’s top order was in a rush to stamp their authority on the match and the series and they paid the price.
It took a beautiful delivery from Cummins to finally break the partnership. The ball moved just enough to square up Ashwin before taking the edge to the slips. He made 25.
Pujara, though, continued to bat on – bringing up his 100 with a six. During the course of the innings, he has went past 5000 Test runs. It was a classic innings in every sense. He was patient, he picked his spot and he wasn’t in a hurry. It was just Day 1 and he understood that.
Just as he was starting to open his shoulders, Pujara was run out by a brilliant piece of fielding by Cummins. It was a direct hit, remarkably because it came at the end of a long, hot day.
India were 127/6 at one point and reaching 250/9 represents a sort of recovery just not the sort they would have hoped to need on a good batting track. India’s top-order batsmen – given what they saw Pujara do – should be kicking themselves. They have let themselves and their side down.