Daniel Brettig in Adelaide
This day, and this Test match, were to be all about the shock of the new.
A new Australia Test team, recast in the wake of Newlands, with a new captain in Tim Paine and a new batting line-up patched together to cover for the bans imposed on Steven Smith and David Warner. Two new television broadcasters, offering dual coverage for the first time in the history of Australian cricket on commercial television after 40 years exclusive to Nine. And between them a new level of access and attitude, devised to bring spectators closer to the action than ever before.
At the first drinks break, Seven conducted a discussion with the Australia bowling coach David Saker, thought to be the first in-play interview in Tests. Not to be outdone, Fox Sports were later to use their spider-cam above Adelaide Oval to conduct drinks break interviews with Travis Head and Peter Handscomb – there can be no doubting the extent to which the Australia team is intent upon “opening up” their world to the public. The new broadcast deals have certainly opened up commentary career paths: a veritable feast of former players walked the halls behind the press and broadcasting boxes, servicing no fewer than six separate outlets.
Yet for all this newness, the opening day at Adelaide Oval actually turned out to be quite old fashioned, and a more lasting marker of the things that do not change about Test cricket in Australia. The early passages come loaded with risk for batsmen and opportunity for bowlers, the conditions ease after 20 or so overs, and the sun and heat are unrelenting. Australia’s bowlers prospered because they swam between the lanes offered by such conditions; all but one of India’s batsmen floundered because they did not.
Thanks to the BCCI, this was also Adelaide’s first day Test since 2014, requiring attendance to see the first ball at 10.30am and a finish before dinner time. Thanks to the bounce of the ball and the modes of dismissal, there was no glimpse of DRS until the 75th over.
By that point, Cheteshwar Pujara had established himself as by far the most composed of the visiting batsmen, sticking to an inherently limited plan and proving himself exceedingly difficult to dislodge by doing so. But for the vastly redeveloped oval and the passage of more than 80 years since his last Test, it might have been the sort of innings Bill “the unbowlable” Woodfull once played here.
Watching Pujara play within his limitations, the rest of his batting colleagues had reason to ponder their repeated fishing expeditions in the opening session. Batting first in temperatures as high as 38C, they had the opportunity to stretch Australia’s four-man bowling attack, with the rider that the Kookaburra ball would swing and seam around for an hour or so, while carrying through comfortably, with plenty of pace, to Paine.
There were inevitably nerves on both sides after the anthems were played and the day began with Mitchell Starc charging in at KL Rahul. Numerous balls swerving down the line of the stumps were squeezed out hurriedly, giving Australia’s debutant Marcus Harris some early sighters of inside edges from his short leg perch. But the eagerness to get bat on ball extended to the intermittent tempters hurled down wide of the stumps by Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, mixed in with straighter deliveries and bouncers designed to push the batsmen back.
Undoubtedly the Australians bowled with great discipline and skill, preying on opponents still getting their bearings in this part of the world. Nevertheless, the procession of Indian outside edges was unbecoming of the world’s top ranked Test team. Rahul began it by slicing a drive at Hazlewood’s sixth ball into the hands of Aaron Finch, and M Vijay continued it by touching Starc’s angled ball through to Paine.
The high point arrived with Virat Kohli, about whom so much has been written and recorded these past two weeks. Mike Atherton’s laudatory piece in The Times about Kohli’s crispness in the Adelaide Oval nets was barely a day old when he, having been tucked up by tight lines for 15 balls, threw his bat at the first full and wide one offered by Cummins. The edge was thick and fast to the extreme left of Usman Khawaja in the gully. Little more than a month clear of knee surgery, and a day beyond his brother Arsalan’s bizarre arrest, Khawaja’s diving take was breathtaking.
At drinks, Saker was able to summarise the classicism of Australia’s approach, and the team’s glee at how India were drawn towards it like, as Richie Benaud used to say, a moth to the flame. “We are most likely to get results if we do bowl a fuller length. It’s been very good this morning but we’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “We got the wickets the way we thought we might get the wickets, we’ve bowled a fuller length and some bouncers to get them back in the crease.
“It was encouraging for both Mitch and Josh that they got the ball to swing. It’s about getting Josh’s body position right … he’s bowled beautifully this morning, as has Mitchell Starc, and it is really encouraging that they are swinging the ball. The other thing very encouraging is Nathan’s first over. We know he’s a big weapon for us and knowing it is spinning on the first day, we can have him at one end and roll the quicks through at the other end.”
Lyon did indeed bring an additional threat, and after Ajinkya Rahane added his flashing drive to the series of edges and cordon catches, the spinner’s wiles kept momentum with Australia. Paine had referred to the looming “chess match” between both sides in terms of attacking spin bowlers in order to press the quicks back into service, and Lyon found himself on the receiving end of a few choice blows from Rohit Sharma in particular, on the way becoming the first bowler in Test history to concede more than 200 sixes.
Rohit, however, is not exactly known for his judgment in Tests. The ball after a flick to the leg side boundary managed just to travel far enough to prevent Harris from completing a catch on the rope, a harebrained charge down the wicket and swing – feet nowhere near the pitch of Lyon’s drift and drop – had Rohit offering the debutant another, far simpler chance. He wandered off with 37 to his name and more question marks about Test match temperament than ever.
Rishabh Pant suggested little more permanence in his innings, veering between telling hits and eye-watering misses, but he was at least to be dismissed by the best delivery of the day so far. From around the wicket, Lyon extracted turn and bounce from the live grass on the drop-in pitch, extracting the thinnest of edges for Paine to hurl skywards in celebration. After some delay, Kumar Dharmasena raised his finger. These wickets kept Australia in charge despite an ageing ball and the unrelenting heat, even as Pujara crept closer to a meritorious first hundred in Australia.
Amid lengthening shadows and confirmation of 23,802 well-catered spectators, Cummins and Starc whittled down India’s remaining wickets. It was Cummins, alert as ever, who ended Pujara’s stay with a direct hit run out from side on that spoke volumes for the levels of fitness the Australians have cultivated under the coaching of Justin Langer. Every member of the home attack finished the day with two wickets apiece, demonstrating in their teamwork another old fashioned virtue on this day of new beginnings.