By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Local boy Ravichandran Ashwin produced a gem of a spell to bamboozle the Australians on a trick track on Day One of the first Test. His impeccable control and copious variations were difficult to tackle on a wicket that posed numerous questions. While Ashwin creamed off the top six of the Australian line-up, skipper Michael Clarke negated India’s early advantage by scripted a magnificent knock — amongst his finest efforts in Tests.
At the end of Day One, things seem evenly poised with Australia on 317 for seven with the promise of an intriguing battle ahead.
Coming into this game, Ashwin was under pressure to perform following a disappointing series against England. He has been fantastic at home since his debut, and has dominated touring teams. The series against England, however, was a blip in his otherwise successful graph. It looked like he was trying too much during that as the orthodox Pragyan Ojha emerged as the lynchpin of the Indian attack. Harbhajan Singh’s presence in the squad also added to the pressure as Ashwin wasn’t the lone off-spinner in the roster.
Ashwin’s performance on Day One on Friday showed that he has given lot of thought to his bowling since the England series. There were variations, but the approach was simpler and he stuck to a particular plan. There was persistence with a set strategy to each batsman. And that paid rich dividends. Rather than firing it in, he wasn’t afraid to toss it up and give it an inviting loop. Very early in his spell, India squandered two possible chances as Virender Sehwag dropped a catch at slip and Mahendra Singh Dhoni failed to convert a stumping opportunity — both off Ashwin.
At one end, Harbhajan was struggling to contain the run flow, but Ashwin was asking some serious questions at the other. Ed Cowan was trying to take the attack to the spinners and Ashwin tossed it up to invite the waltz down the track. Cowan misread it as the ball dipped for Dhoni to effect the stumping.
The wicket of David Warner showed why Ashwin is regarded as a thinking cricketer. He kept pushing the left-hander on the backfoot, only to fire one in and trap him in front.
Due to the variations in pace, the batsmen struggled and as one of the television commentators pointed out, the ball struck their pads much before the bats came down. Throughout his spell, Ashwin was getting turn and bounce — which he used it profitably.
This is Ashwin’s fourth six-wicket haul in just 13 Test matches.
With Australia at a precarious position at 153 for five, Clarke and debutant Moises Henriques were left with a task of resurrecting the innings. Clarke is in the form of his life and if some felt that his prolific run was limited to the Australian shores, one couldn’t have been more wrong. In contrasting conditions, he showed why he is one of the best batsmen in the world. He used his feet well, even against the rampaging Ashwin to put pressure on India.
Henriques looked very assured on debut and essayed strokes with confidence. Clarke may have stolen the limelight with his ton, but take nothing away from the debutant’s effort. In a previous article, this writer had discussed that Henriques must look up to Clarke for inspiration as not many Aussie cricketers who debuted in India went on to carve successful careers. Clarke’s presence in the middle would have been a massive influence and they went on to stitch a partnership of over 150 runs — which is a commendable effort on the Chennai wicket.
The game stands at a very interesting juncture. Going by the first day, one can expect a lot of wear and tear of the wicket in the next two days, which would make batting even more difficult. India’s batsmen would have to apply themselves very well to take the lead. However, Australia may be a spinner short and Nathan Lyon would have a lot of bowling to do. Will that decision haunt Australia or would their pacers do the job? Plenty to look forward to.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site's YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_
First Published: February 23, 2013, 10:59 am