Australia v. India – Few thoughts from Day One of the First Test
There seemed to be a great deal of surprise when Michael Clarke elected to bat having won the toss. The ‘experts’ said the pitch had a good deal of grass covering, and that it might have even been a good toss to lose for India, especially considering the overcast sky. But the convention in Australia tells you otherwise. Weather the early storm and there were runs to be made.
Edward Cowan’s batting today was an absolute pleasure to watch. It was a really good, old-fashioned test match innings. He was composed and assured throughout; left the ball superbly well in the first session – a high art that we don’t get to see often enough these days – allowing, first, David Warner to get on with the scoring and then, Ricky Ponting. But once the Indian bowlers began to waver with their length post lunch, with the sun beginning to shine, he opened up with a blaze of gorgeous drives, cuts and pulls, particularly off Umesh Yadav. Much like Michael Hussey, he sometimes has a tendency to pull off the front foot, with his weight transferring backward at the very last minute. And for someone who leaves the ball so well, he did show a propensity to drive away from his body, albeit displaying fine judgment of length on every such occasion. All in all, though, a compact and proper test match opener who should dovetail beautifully with David Warner in the future. This, though, could mean that when Shane Watson is fit and back in the team, he is likely to drop into the middle order.
Zaheer Khan – with his fitness shrouded in doubt – cut a leaner figure, but his bowling in the first two sessions was substandard at best. He did start well, however, maintaining a fine line to Cowan, but the debutant displayed tremendous patience to get through the testing phase. After lunch, Zaheer was shockingly poor, bowling without any pace and dropping the ball far too short, allowing Ponting and Cowan to break loose easily. Post tea, though, with a hint of reverse swing in the air, Zaheer was a different beast – suddenly there was a greater spring his step and the pace was upped. Bowling from around the wicket to Michael Clarke, he used the crease ever so cleverly, getting the ball to dip in and causing Clarke, who thought he had the room to cut, to drag on. The very next ball, Michael Hussey was cut to ribbons by an absolute snorter that took off from a good length, but was unlucky to be given out by Marais Erasmus – the ball had clearly missed the bat, striking Hussey’s shirtsleeve en route to the keeper. The 6-over spell served as a lovely pointer of Zaheer’s value to the team. India certainly needs a substantial, consistent contribution from him, if they are to harbour any hopes of winning the series.
Umesh Yadav was terrific in some phases – bowling with pace and extracting bounce off the wicket – and tripe in others – bowling far too short and wide. He went through a particularly torrid period post-lunch, when he struggled to hit the right length, leaking runs aplenty to Cowan and Ponting. He does, though, have a unique knack of bowling wicket-taking deliveries with remarkable regularity and it was this skill, which kept India in the game for large parts of day one. Just when it looked like David Warner could cost India dear, after he had raced away to a typically effervescent start, Yadav produced a quick, short delivery that Warner top-edged to M.S. Dhoni, first ball after a brief rain delay in the morning session. Shaun Marsh, batting at one-drop, fell soon after, edging Yadav’s full and slanting delivery to point. After lunch, however, Yadav dropped the ball far too short, and Cowan and Ponting capitalized with alacrity. After a spell of sustained dominance from Australia, though, Yadav came back into the attack to snarl Ponting, who edged a beautiful, quick delivery that nipped away off a length to V.V.S. Laxman at second slip. It was no doubt an inconsistent showing from Yadav, but the potential was there to be seen.
It took until over number 65 for the inevitable debate on the DRS (decision review system) to be ignited. Erasmus’s decision to rule Hussey out was clearly egregious and Virtual Eye showed no mark on Hussey’s bat. This was a particularly terrible decision, an obvious error that required reversal. I still think a system needs to be put in place whereby errors of this ilk can be reversed, but a microcosm of the problem with the system as is proposed – and as has been applied in many series’ – was evident a few overs later when Cowan was ruled caught behind, by Ian Gould, off Ashwin. To begin with, there seemed little doubt about the decision – there was a clear sound and Cowan certainly seemed to have nicked it, yet Virtual Eye showed no mark. It may well be the case that Cowan didn’t in fact edge the ball, but Virtual Eye has hardly proved itself foolproof, thereby triggering an element of doubt. Indeed we need a reliable system – and a uniform one at that – to help review obvious errors made by umpires, but the technology currently in place fails to pass muster.