Adelaide: After the first session of play on Thursday, India’s score read 41-2. It was their lowest score in the opening session of play in the last six years. The primary reason for the sluggish start was the discipline of the Australian bowlers. Apart from one cut shot from Virat Kohli, the Australian quick bowlers rarely offered any width to the Indian batsmen to throw their hands at the ball.
Pat Cummins hit an immaculate length from the outset. At one stage, Cummins had figures of 11-6-12-1. Cheteshwar Pujara failed to score for a run for 30 balls during his long stay at the crease.
It all started with Josh Hazelwood. In the past, Hazelwood had been guilty of trying too hard and in the process erring in line or length. But on the opening day of the pink ball Test, he repeatedly landed the ball in the corridor of uncertainty. The gentle offering off the pads was absent and he never dished out a genuine half-volley. It was an extremely disciplined performance with the new ball.
Cummins and Hazlewood had bowled 21 out of the 31 overs. This was Australia’s idea to apply the choke. The home side had studied Pujara’s scoring zones from two years ago and employed well-set fields. The mid-on was a lot wider, a straight midwicket was employed and a leg-gully was stationed for Pujara for the majority of his innings. The Indian No 3 simply couldn’t break free and couldn’t shift gears as he had on the 2018 tour.
Even the newcomer Cameron Green stuck to the plans diligently. He bowled a bouncer in each over, but offered no width. The height at which Green delivers the ball made it tough for even Kohli to attempt the hook or the pull shot. After a couple of spells, Green had figures of 7-1-14-0. It was an exceptional performance for a bowler who is Australia’s fifth bowling option.
Australian fast bowlers wanted India to fight for each run and they succeeded. The run-rate never crossed 2.5 runs an over until the last partnership between Ravichandran Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha. The last 20 minutes of play was the only time India scored freely as the second new ball sped off Ashwin and Saha’s willows.
But perhaps the most important person in the Australian bowling unit is Nathan Lyon. The off-spinner has become a master at holding up one end. Lyon set most of the fielders on the leg-side for the right-handers and pitched the ball on the line of the fifth stump. The bounce Lyon generates with his loop along with his trajectory makes it extremely difficult for the right-handers to hit against the turn. Invariably, he had a man placed in the covers to stop the drive and the quick single. All these tactics only helped keep the lid on India’s scoring.
The only batsman to play Lyon with purpose was Kohli. The Indian skipper read the length early allowing him to play back or forward with great conviction. His front foot went towards mid-off and his body was open which meant he could play Lyon on both sides of the wicket. As day turned into night, he used his reach to smash Lyon through the covers. Next ball was so flat that Kohli could easily work it into the off-side for a single. It was the only passage of play where it felt like Australia were losing control of the game and India were starting to up the tempo. But the mix-up between Rahane and Kohli that led to the Indian skipper’s run-out turned the tide in the home side’s favour once again.
The pitch had some assistance but more than the surface, it was Australia’s disciplined line and length that ensured the home side remained ahead in the match. A lot of credit must also be given to the Australian think tank for right field placements for each individual player.
After all, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazelwood have not played a first-class match for close to a year. Starc had played two first-class matches around a month ago, but his preparation had been hampered due to personal reasons. Despite all these challenges, the Australian bowling unit executed their plans perfectly. They had ensured Australia started the series on the right note.