PUNE: Spin was in the air in the prelude to the first Test. The captains were unanimous in their reading of the pitch and chose resources accordingly while naming XIs. Lending credence to such thoughts, Ravichandran Ashwin earned a rare distinction for a spinner, sharing the new ball on the first day of a Test match in India.
The start, however, was not on anticipated lines. With most betting on them to lose and many expecting them to lose badly, Australia began their Border-Gavaskar Trophy campaign rather well. David Warner and Matt Renshaw kept bowlers at bay for longer than expected before things started changing. A combination of inexperience in these conditions, injudicious shot selection and pressure applied by Virat Kohli’s team saw the visitors crumble from a promising position.
It could have been worse for them but for Mitchell Starc, who hammered a 58-ball 57 and dominated an unbroken last-wicket partnership of 51 with Josh Hazlewood, where the latter’s contribution was one. It was his ninth Test half- century and third against India. It helped Australia close the day on a somewhat respectable 256/9, which looked a far cry at one stage.
At 119/1 in the second session, the visitors were looking good to get a challenging total, when Shaun Marsh’s attempted sweep off Jayant Yadav landed in Kohli’s hands at leg slip. Steve Smith was living dangerously, trying to unsettle bowlers by constantly shuffling across the stumps. He perished soon after, unable to keep a forcing shot off Ashwin along the ground. Even though Renshaw battled, the visitors had lost the plot by then.
Umesh Yadav emerged unlikely hero on a day that saw Indian spinners bowl 71 of the 94 overs. Introduced into the attack in the 28th over as third change, the fast bowler sent back David Warner with his second delivery and used reverse swing to good effect later on to return figures of 12-3-32-4.
It wasn’t till close to tea that the sparse crowd at MCA Stadium found reasons to cheer on a hot day under a punishing sun. Bat dominated ball in the first session and a greater part of the second before wickets started tumbling. Australia would regret this because their top five got out after getting starts. Interestingly, four of them fell to spinners.
Renshaw was the most impressive of the lot, showing sound temperament for a 20-year-old playing his fifth Test, the first outside Australia. The left-hander relied more on defence and judgement outside off in his 156-ball innings that contained 10 fours and the first six of the series. Returning to the pavilion after Warner’s departure in the 28th over, apparently because of a problem tummy, he came back in the 60th following Handscomb’s dismissal and completed the second half-century.
Brief scores: Australia 256/9 in 94 ovs (Matt Renshaw 68, Mitchell Starc 57 no, David Warner 38, Steve Smith 27, Peter Handscomb 22, Umesh Yadav 4/32, Ravichandran Ashwin 2/, Ravindra Jadeja 2/). Stumps. Day 1.