Domain Tests v India
Cummins run-out tops Australia's day
Australia on fire in the field with classic catch and brilliant run out in Adelaide opener
Andrew Ramsey at the Adelaide Oval
6 December 2018, 08:21 PM AEST
Amid all the debate and despair surrounding Australia's batting stocks in the shadow of the sandpaper episode, the ongoing potency of the Test team's bowling line-up seemed willfully overlooked.
Even though it's less than 12 months since the incumbent quartet of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon effectively dismantled a much-fancied touring team to regain the Ashes.
So perhaps those most surprised when that same foursome sliced through India's top-order in the opening sessions of the Domain Test Series were the folks whose recall didn't stretch back to the routine clatter of England wickets last summer.
Or certainly, as distant as the struggles that India batting greats of decades past have experienced in Australia.
If not for the dogged century posted by Cheteshwar Pujara – the only member of India's current big five batters not to have previously registered a Test ton in Australia – the visitors' stumps score of 9-250 would have proved a distant dream.
And their aspirations to defy history similarly jolted in largely unforeseen fashion.
Prior to Starc getting the Test season underway amid already searing mid-morning heat at Adelaide Oval today, not much more could have fallen in India's favour in their quest for a first series win on these shores after more than 70 years of trying.
They faced an opponent stripped of their on-field leaders and pre-eminent batters (Steve Smith and David Warner), and similarly bereft of belief, having gone winless for five consecutive Tests – four of which yielded heavy losses.
To cap that advantage, captain of the world's top-ranked Test team Virat Kohli's success at the coin toss consigned Australia to the field for a day that lived up to its 39C forecast.
Yet after a solitary session, the scorecard read like so many others from India's 11 previous ventures to Australia since 1947 that have yielded them little other than frustration and squandered hope.
Only the stubbornness of Pujara who played an admirably lone hand of disciplined defiance, and a couple of incandescent cameos from middle-order pair Rohit Sharma (37 from 61 balls) and Rishabh Pant (25 from 38) quarantined India from abject disaster.
A prospect that loomed large after the failures of openers Lokesh Rahul (2) and Murali Vijay (11) was matched by Kohli (3) and Ajinkya Rahane (13), as the visitors found themselves 4-41 and at risk of wasting every advantage bequeathed them.
But whereas previous sojourns to Australia have seen India teams outgunned by raw pace on fast pitches, today they were largely out-thought in the face of those same foes.
Rather than try to intimidate the tourists' vaunted top-order with the surfeit of short-pitched bowling that has previously exposed weaknesses in players schooled on slow subcontinent pitches, Australia's quicks risked playing to the Indians' strengths.
By pitching the ball full and offering width that encouraged Kohli and his men to chase runs before they had settled into their surrounds, Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins used desert heat in Adelaide to achieve results more often associated with grey days in northern England.
With the first seven India wickets falling to catches behind the wicket – noting that one of those was the consequence of a top-edged sweep shot, deemed the most profligate among an array of needless sacrifices.
The tone was set in the second over when Rahul looked to force a delivery of almost half-volley length through the covers only for his angled blade to slice a sharp chance to third slip.
If that sounded a warning as to the Australians' ploy, it was ignored by India's other opener Vijay who had watched his partner perish yet fell aiming a similarly expansive stroke five overs later.
His dismissal was made more culpable by the fact he had survived a scare the ball prior, when he popped a hard-handed push into vacant territory between the slips cordon and gully fielder.
By that stage, Australia were sensing they might seize dominance if they could conjure a chance from Kohli, whose previous two Test visits to Adelaide Oval had brought three centuries.
It would take a freakish fielding effort to seize that opportunity when it arose.
Usman Khawaja's reflex act in flinging himself to his left at gully to intercept Kohli's injudicious off-side flick in one hand seemed likely to prove a fielding highlight unlikely to be surpassed this series.
Until Cummins somehow threw down the stumps from side-on while levitating in mid-air to end a weary Pujara's innings on 123.
When Kohli departed, an other-worldly stillness had settled over Adelaide Oval.
It was partly shock at the skipper's rare failure, but also was potentially a reflection of Australia's unexpected ascendancy that so glaringly defied the earlier chronicling of their decline.
If India were to steady from 3-15, then it would surely be their most obdurate batters Pujara and Rahane who would oversee that mission.
But Rahane, who had famously endured for three hours to post a pivotal half-century when the teams met in Bengaluru last year, produced the most ill-disciplined shot of the morning session as he threw his hands at a full, wide ball from Hazlewood that flashed to second slip.
It seemed that Australia, the team that had been left with no rudder, could suddenly do no wrong.
The pace bowlers had unerringly stuck to their blueprint, with possibly the most errant delivery of the session – Hazlewood's wide half-volley – claiming a wicket, while the cordon catching was unerring and Tim Paine's captaincy inspired.
As shown when both Cummins and Hazlewood (twice) pocketed wickets within an over of being brought into the attack.
The sole blemish had been the sharp chance Peter Handscomb had turfed at short-leg when Lyon induced an inside edge from Rahane, but that was one of those catches that only stick when they hit flush in the palm.
And the Indian batter was removed for little additional damage shortly after.
From there, the tourists apparently decided that while Pujara steadfastly held up an end, his batting partners would look to take the game to their tormentors.
Initially, it seemed Lyon had been identified as the target for this counter-attack but Rohit – recalled to the starting XI after almost a year on the periphery – then went after Cummins, who he lifted beyond extra-cover for the sweetest of sixes.
It would hasten his downfall, however, as his appetite for big strokes soon outgrew his acumen to execute them.
Rohit could have been dismissed when he swept Lyon beyond backward square leg, where debutant Marcus Harris completed a canny running catch but was unable to remain inside the boundary in doing so, and thus gifted the batter another six.
Rather than be chastened by this near-miss, Sharma aimed an ever more ambitious sweep at the next ball as he advanced down the pitch that travelled in a similar trajectory but over less distance and provided Harris with his first (legal) Test catch.
It was an episode that summed up India's top-order effort – an inability to learn the lessons of those who had gone before, fused with an unwillingness to stick around with Pujara who was delivering a one-man tutorial on Test match batting.
The right-hander had inched his way to 11 from 45 balls faced when India's fourth wicket fell, and spent almost five overs becalmed on that score as he studiously left deliveries that posed no direct threat and defended those that might.
During the middle session, in the heat of a brutal day, he pushed his score to within a boundary of a half-century and as the shadows grew long and the second new-ball appeared, the only likely obstacle to a 16th Test hundred was a lack of batting partners.
Then, upon reaching the deserved milestone, he produced a series of exquisite strokes in the freedom afforded by dwindling batting partners and heat-addled Australia bowlers.
The challenge that awaits is whether the batting that has been seen as the hosts' weak point have heeded the lessons all-but Pujara seemed to ignore.
Australia XI: Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c,wk), Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
India XI: KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma
Domain Test Series v India
Dec 6-10: First Test, Adelaide Oval
Dec 14-18: Second Test, Perth Stadium
Dec 26-30: Third Test, MCG
Jan 3-7: Fourth Test, SCG
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c, wk), Josh Hazlewood (vc), Mitch Marsh (vc), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Chris Tremain
India squad: Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Parthiv Patel (wk), Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar