Australia hadn’t played a Test for 12 months. India hadn’t played one for 9 months. For those who had perhaps forgotten what the sights and sounds of Test cricket are like, the first session at Adelaide was a fascinating reminder. It was slow, gripping, intense to start off with, and then as the day came to an end, the momentum shifted in a blur of wickets.
At 188/3, India looked well in command but after a mini-collapse, they ended day 1 on 233/6, with their top-order back in the dressing room.
The day started off with a bang though. India opener Prithvi Shaw (0) was bowled off just the second ball of the match. Mitchell Starc got one to come back into the right-hander and the inside edge went back onto the stumps.
The youngster, an iffy pick in the XI, had never been dismissed for a single-digit score in Test cricket but just when he needed to repay the faith of the team, he failed. It was a good ball but perhaps a slightly tighter technique would have helped him survive. That, though, was perhaps the only instance of immaturity shown by India on a day when they elected to bat first after winning the toss.
Much had been made of the pink ball and what it could potentially do under the lights but Kohli had backed his team to come out and put the runs on the board and they weren’t going to let the loss of one early wicket upset the applecart.
Shaw’s wicket brought Cheteshwar Pujara to the wicket and the right-hander went into defense mode right away. He left the ball, he blocked – with the bat and his body and he stood there like a rock. Australia, however, had a plan. They wanted to fight patience with patience.
If there was a theme to the day – it was patience. The movement of the ball wasn’t extravagant. There was bounce but it wasn’t disconcerting. There was turn too. Batting wasn’t easy but one could survive and that is what Mayank Agarwal and Pujara set their minds to do.
Too often in the past have we see teams go to Australia and look to make an early impact. But India didn’t worry about how they looked or how they blocked. Rather they want to just play the ball on merit and that isn’t always easy.
The runs didn’t exactly flow. After 18 overs, India were 32/1. Slow but comfortable in the idea that they were playing out the new ball. Then, Pat Cummins produced a stunning delivery to send back Agarwal (17). The right-hander had looked solid but the pacer got once to cut back through the gap between bat and bat.
Kohli walked to the middle and one wasn’t quite sure what he would do. He has made his reputation as a batsman who likes to dominate the bowling. But with Pujara batting the way he was, the India skipper might not get enough strike... certainly not as much as he likes. So what would he do?
As it turned out, Kohli played in a very mature manner. Almost matching Pujara defensive stroke for defensive stroke. In the past, he might have tried to break the stranglehold of the Australian bowlers with a few shots but here, he trusted himself and his partner.
India breakdown of every 50 runs scored (by balls)
50: 180 balls
100: 117 balls
150: 110 balls
200: 82 balls
When Nathan Lyon was brought into the attack, Pujara and Kohli finally started to find some momentum.
Pujara, who after facing a 100 balls had only reached 18, was able to use his feet to the off-spinner and that finally allowed him to play some shots. This doesn’t mean that Lyon bowled badly but it just meant that the scoreboard started ticking over a little more quickly.
Kohli hit one down the ground and it looked like he would assert himself on the game even more now. But the lack of strike meant he still held himself back. He needed to be patient or there was a danger he would throw his wicket away.
From 18 of 100 balls, Pujara advanced to 43 off 160 balls before being dismissed by Lyon. The ball bounced a little on him, took the edge and went up off the pads towards leg slip. The partnership between Pujara and Kohli was 68 runs off 198 balls.
Now, Kohli was joined by Ajinkya Rahane in the middle and the India skipper almost immediately seemed to find a better rhythm. The captain and his deputy bat well together and generally have a good understanding as well.
And they just seemed to bat Australia out of the match. The night session began but Kohli and Rahane just seemed to bat on without much trouble. Then, out of nowhere, disaster struck.
Rahane called for a quick single, realised it wasn’t there and shouted to his skipper to stop. But by then Kohli had committed to the single. The India skipper, on 74, was stranded in the middle of the wicket. Rahane, almost immediately, put up his hand in apology but the damage was done and the disappointment was writ large on Kohli’s face as he walked off the field.
According to CricViz, before the dismissal, Kohli hadn’t played a false shot in 21 deliveries. He’d played just three in his last 50 balls. He looked set for a big one, and now with his dismissal in the 77th over, the India middle-order stood exposed to the new ball.
The worst fears came alive when Rahane (42), still in a daze following the run out, was trapped leg before the wicket by Starc. A little later, Hanuma Vihari followed him back to the dressing room. Wriddhiman Saha (9) and Ravichandran Ashwin (15) put on a brisk 27 runs in just 35 balls to help India end the day on 233/6.
The visitors had been patient all day but some might argue that all their hard work was undone by a few moments of indecision. India could still make it to 300 – both Saha and Ashwin can bat – but the Kohli wicket was a key moment and it clearly gave Australia a huge boost in morale.
It looks like an even day but India don’t have much batting to come and they might end up short of the total they initially had in mind. With so many twists and turns turning Day 1 into a classic, Day 2 promises to be just as enthralling.
Day 1, by the session
First session: 25 overs, 41 runs, 2 wickets
Second session: 30 overs, 66 runs, 1 wicket
Third session: 34 runs, 126 runs, 3 wickets