On a pitch so dry it resembled the surface of Mars to Shane Warne, which looked unlike any he had seen in India according to Ravi Shastri, it was a fast bowler who came away with the richest haul. Umesh Yadav’s combination of pace and reverse swing fetched him four wickets as Australia managed 256 for 9 in Pune.
A sizeable chunk of that total came off the blade of Matt Renshaw. The 20-year-old playing his first Test away from home made 68 off 156 balls either side of retiring ill with a stomach bug in the first session. Not many of his team-mates can match his composure or his patience. Both those attributes served him well in conditions where sharp spin and startling bounce were the norm instead of the exception.
If such was the case on the first day, imagine having to bat last, which India have to if the match goes that long. So putting up a big total in the first innings was vital after Australia won the toss and chose to bat. They might want to get closer to 300, but the total they have already is nothing to scoff at.
Mitchell Starc is a clear and present threat, especially with the expectation of variable bounce. He smashed 57 not out off 58 balls himself to make sure when he gets the ball in hand, he has enough of a cushion to go all out. Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe, too, might fancy their chances of exploiting a surface where footmarks were popping up by the 10th over of the opening day.
Australia had done excellent work in the morning. Despite the alien conditions, they realised that on a strip prone to turn, the best way to survive is to not chase the ball. Protect middle stump, ensure you are behind the one that holds its line, play late and use soft hands, and when the ball deviates, it will only leave you beaten and red-faced, not red-faced and back in the hut.
These virtues helped Warner and Renshaw last 27.2 overs together. The 82 runs they made were the result of their ability to both tip and run, and thwack and stand back. Case in point was in the 25th over: R Ashwin harassed the outside edge and was smashed to the square leg boundary all in the space of minutes. Or the 42nd over, when Ravindra Jadeja bowled a long hop to Steven Smith and was pulled to the midwicket fence.
Often India had to turn to their quickest bowler and Umesh was happy to oblige. His pace has worked against him in the past, making good balls stray down wrong lines and result in boundaries.—AFP