With minutes remaining for lunch,Ravichandran Ashwin let an off-break hang enticingly above Ed Cowans eyeline. Cowan reached out and drove,even as the ball dropped on him. At short cover,VVS Laxman fell to his right to clasp it one-handed an inch from the ground.
On a first-day Adelaide wicket with nothing on it for bowlers of any description,India had Australia three down at lunch. Zaheer Khan had trapped the combustible David Warner on the crease with one that angled in. Ashwin had bowled Shaun Marsh,offering a robotic defensive prod,bat well wide of front pad,to a ball that didnt turn.
This was just like Sydney where Australia had been three down for even less but not,the Indians must have felt,entirely like Sydney where the next two partnerships totaled 622. That surely couldnt happen again.
For one,Virender Sehwags captaincy had looked more imaginative than MS Dhonis at Sydney. Sehwag had brought spin on in only the fourth over,and given Ashwin interesting-looking fields,with short midwicket cutting off singles. Deep point was conspicuous by its absence. The off spinners first spell had read 5-2-6-1,and his second,just before lunch,4-1-14-1.
But at the end of Day One,the Indians were experiencing what that baseballer-philosopher Yogi Berra famously referred to as déjà vu all over again. Exchanging a firm shake of gloved hands,Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke walked off the pitch,promising to take their fourth-wicket partnership,an unbroken 251,beyond the 288 they had put on at Sydney.
Their centuries here were,if anything,even more assured than their knocks at the SCG. There,Clarke had played and missed a fair bit early on,especially against a fired-up Zaheer,and negotiated a halfway-testing spell from Ishant Sharma on the second morning,when he got a few balls to straighten off a length. Ponting,still not feeling fully in form,hadnt displayed his full range of strokes.
Pontings century his fourth in as many Tests against India on this ground contained nearly all the shots that he played in his pomp. The SCG hundred was short on drives down the ground. Here,he breached the longest straight boundary in the world four times in all,once between Umesh Yadav and mid on,once between Umesh and mid off and twice after stepping out to Ashwin.
The three best shots of his innings,however,were struck square on the off side. When he was on 25,Umesh dropped a fraction short,and Ponting swept his bat through a curvy arc to drive it to the point fence off the backfoot.
On 68,he found himself on the front foot to a rising,back-of-a-length delivery from Ishant. No matter. He drove on the up,even if that meant meeting the ball with a vertical bat near his chest,and the ball sped away to points right for four more.
Having reached his second hundred of the series,he got into that familiar feline crouch,bat lifted high behind his back,and waited an eternity before opening his face to guide Umesh between point and gully.
Skipper on skates
Clarke raced along at a strike rate of over 70,and overtook Ponting by the end of the day. He drove beautifully through cover,skipping out and merely meeting the ball with his bat,but was most severe on anything short. He pulled Umesh twice,once in front of square and once just behind,with only a little swish to help it along,and slapped Ashwin twice behind point in three balls. Neither delivery was a long-hop,but Clarke had leapt back almost as soon as Ashwin had released. This aspect of his play against spin is just as impressive,if not as talked about,as his tendency to dance down the track. This too he showed off,getting to the pitch four times to Ashwin and Sehwag for boundaries,either driving down the ground or lofting inside-out against the turn.
Both batsmen were helped along by questionable captaincy. Sehwag asked too much of Ishant during one spell where he got the ball to reverse into the right-handers,giving him two short midwickets but no slips or third man. Twice in one over,Clarke chopped him away for boundaries in the point region.
Clarke enjoyed two reprieves against Ishant,separated by more than 40 overs. The first saw him edge a slash that flew at catchable height to first slip,but Sehwag had left a gap between the keeper and Laxman at second slip. Then,moments after he had taken the second new ball,Clarke edged Ishant once more. The ball screamed away to Laxmans right. He dived a long way,and got a hand to it,but it didnt stick. A hypothetical third slip may not have had to move as much.