Green and red: A day of two colours
Travis Head's dismissal right towards the end of the day threw the advantage back to India. (AFP Image)

PERTH: Green. Thursday was all about how much grass there was on the Perth wicket. Five out of ten questions in Virat Kohli’s pre-match conference were about the pitch. Tim Paine answered six questions about it as well.

Come day one morning, and there was only one question on everyone’s lips. How many fast bowlers India would play on this green-top surface? Listening intently to Kohli a day prior, it was obvious that he was excited about unleashing his pace battery. This is an Indian batsman who doesn’t cower, and more importantly, as captain, this team is highly ingrained in his image. Add to it the victory at Johannesburg back in January, and you just know that this Indian team is actually happy playing on such tracks.

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Even so, there comes a moment when you pause, take a deep breath, and wonder aloud if the right call is being made. It is easy to assume that Kohli was only too happy to pick four pacers. It can also be assumed that as a balanced captain – with the backing of his team management – he did consider picking Ravindra Jadeja as the spin option. Yet, it was almost given that spin would be completely ruled out, as it eventually did pan out.

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Was it the right decision? It is tough to say after only day one, particularly when this Perth wicket quickened up after lunch and started rearing up at the batsmen more than it did in the morning. But, there were two decisions herein. When Kohli nodded yes to the fourth pacer, he opted for Umesh Yadav ahead of Bhuvneshwar Kumar. It is this second decision that will impart the outcome of this Test more than the first.

There is no doubting that Umesh is at a crossroads in his international career. He has been touring since 2011, and seven years later, he is only the fourth or fifth pace option overseas. Mind you, he has improved and matured a lot over the past couple seasons, and even then, he is only second in that regard with Jasprit Bumrah being the first.

It was evident in the manner he bowled on day one in Perth. Umesh came on to bowl in the ninth over, after India had already squandered a few easy runs. To begin with, he had good control and along with Mohammed Shami, stopped the flow of runs. But as the day progressed, Umesh regressed in his role. While Bumrah, Shami and Ishant Sharma regained their composure and put pressure on the Australian batting line-up, Umesh was left filling in the blanks.

This though is not about how one pacer bowled, and at different times let Australia off the hook. Make no mistake – each and every Indian pacer was guilty of this. Take Shami for example – only four runs came in his first five overs before lunch, and you assumed that the Bengal bowler was carrying on from where he had left off in Adelaide. Usually he takes time bedding in on any tour, but once he does, the opposition is left scurrying. Post lunch though, Shami was smacked for 23 runs in just four overs, and Kohli was left looking for alternate options.

Consider Ishant. Playing in his 89th Test, you would think that he has enough experience to not let the ‘no ball controversy’ get to him. Yet, watching him in the first spell bowling with the new ball – and spraying it all over – there was a distinct feeling that he was more mindful of where his feet were rather than where he pitched the ball. When three of your pacers are blowing hot and cold, it is enough to make any captain see red.

And this is where Kohli ought to be thankful for Bumrah. His only fault, both in Adelaide and Perth, has been the inability to figure out length in the first spell. In both Tests, he has bowled shorter only to recover and come back with fuller lengths in the second/latter spells. In the morning here too, he was taken for runs but then returned to bowl beautifully as India exerted control on the proceedings.

At one stage, Australia were scoring at four an over and Kohli had to eventually turn to Hanuma Vihari who bowled 14 overs. It makes for dual wonderment – a) playing a spinner always helps because it brings differentiation in the scheme of things and breaks the flow of proceedings, even if in terms of controlling the run-rate like R Ashwin did at Adelaide. And b) if Vihari could do so much damage to the Australian line-up, what will Nathan Lyon do to the Indian batting?

This is where Australia ought to kick themselves. They had two wonderful chances to bat India out of the game very early. First, when they were 112-0 in the post-lunch session but when on to lose four wickets for just 34 runs. And then second, when Shaun Marsh and Travis Head were batting together, and put on 84 runs for the fifth wicket, yet threw it all away with some poor shot selection in the last session to hand India the advantage back.

Taken in summation, these two pointers are enough to indicate that batting already isn’t easy enough on this pitch, which is quickening up with each passing over. It isn’t a cracker like the Johannesburg pitch, but slowly and surely there will be enough for the batsmen to know that some delivery has their name on it. As such, it is about making count whatever time you are spending on there. The hosts could have easily scored 320, even 350, in the first innings, but now will depend on their tailenders again to help them cross 300.

Set batsmen will have a key role to play herein, and Australia – like in the first Test – had three batsmen who crossed 50 but didn’t go on to make a hundred. That aspect had lost them the game in Adelaide. While it is too early to predict how it will impact this match over the next three or four days, it is not too much to assume that someone in the Australian dressing room will be seeing red tonight.