The first session of the much-anticipated Border Gavaskar Trophy had an uncomfortably familiar ring to it for the Indians. Making first use of a decent looking pitch, India’s much-vaunted top-order had yet again failed spectacularly overseas.
KL Rahul was the first to depart in the second over when he wafted at a wide delivery. Murali Vijay followed soon after as Starc got one to straighten to take the outside edge of the opener’s bat.
Like many a time, Kohli again walked in with his team under strife. However, the skipper couldn’t extract his team out of trouble this time around as a loose drive and a spectacular catch contributed to his downfall.
Rahane fell quickly after to Cummins. Pujara and Rohit stitched a 45-run partnership for the 5th wicket before Rohit threw his wicket away to Nathan Lyon. Pant then strode out with intent and played his shots before perishing to the only defensive shot he played.
However, for all of India’s struggles in the first two sessions, they were much better in the third. Pujara combined with Ashwin to launch a superb rear-guard action. With the former racking up his 16th Test century, India ended the day on 250 for 9.
Australia meanwhile would’ve been proud of the way they bowled throughout. Apart from a brief half an hour period towards the end, where they looked flat, the bowlers were impeccable with their execution.
Despite being just a day old, the Adelaide Test match has moved on pretty quickly and promises to be an intriguing encounter in the days to come.
Let us take a look at three things that we learnt from the first day at Adelaide.
#3 Pujara looks primed to have an extraordinary series
The first session hardly went to plan for India. After electing to bat, the visitors were under the cosh after some loose stroke-play. However, one man who stood between Australia and a considerable advantage was Cheteshwar Pujara.
Pujara set out his stall and didn’t give the Aussie bowlers an inch. He bided his time at the start and only started to display his full repertoire of strokes after getting his eye in.
While the others around him fell like ninepins, the Saurashtra batsman was a picture of concentration. He was judicious around his off-stump and only attacked the balls that were in his arc or on his pads.
Though Pujara’s temperament has never been in question, he portrayed an apparent weakness against the incoming delivery in previous overseas assignments.
However, in Adelaide, Pujara negotiated the threat of the incoming delivery with aplomb. The right-hander wasn’t falling over while playing on the leg-side and displayed exemplary judgment around his off stump.
These aspects point to the fact that Pujara could have a massive role to play in the series. If India is to mount a serious challenge, they need to score heavily and on today’s evidence, it looks likely that Pujara would have to shoulder the lion’s share of the burden.
#2 Rahane’s dismissal highlights a persistent weakness
Ajinkya Rahane, the vice-captain of the team again had a day to forget. Coming in to bat at 19-3, much was expected from the Mumbaikar. Yet, he fell to Hazlewood. However, more than his not performing, it is his pattern of dismissals that form a major part of a worrying narrative.
In England, Rahane faced problems against the likes of Stokes when the Englishman got the ball to bounce outside off. Rahane has a tendency to hang his bat outside the off stump and the same was exploited mercilessly in England.
However, many thought that time out of the game would help him iron out those flaws. Yet, come Adelaide, it was a case of ‘same old’ for Rahane. Facing Cummins and Hazlewood, Rahane never looked comfortable with the pair's ability to extract bounce and movement ruffling his feathers.
Years ago, Steven Finn had troubled Rahane similarly but his sustained performances in international cricket led one to believe that he had overcome those demons. However, those demons have resurfaced again and now Rahane faces an acid test in an attempt to eradicate those.
The form of India’s vice-captain is crucial for the success of the team. However, the world now knows that the vice-captain comes with an obvious weakness.
Thus, it is time for Rahane to come up with a solution and help solve a puzzle that keeps on resurfacing with alarming frequency.
#1 Pat Cummins could be Australia’s most important bowler
The fast bowler from New South Wales enjoyed a superb outing on the first day as he claimed two huge wickets. While Kohli played a sloppy stroke, his delivery to get rid of Ashwin was pure genius.
Cummins bowled with fire throughout the day and was ready to put in a shift whenever called upon. Despite returning from a recent injury, the pacer chalked up 19 overs throughout the day. To cap it all off, he also produced a scintillating run-out to dismiss Pujara.
Before the series began proper, India’s biggest threats were perceived to be Hazlewood and Starc. The duo has been sensational in red-ball cricket with their pace and movement causing batsmen problems all around the world. However, for long periods of time, the Aussies lacked a perfect third bowler to complement the pair.
In Cummins, they have the ideal pacer. A pacer who can bend his back and clock high speeds while also producing magical deliveries every now and then. Capable of cranking up the pace at any time of the day, Cummins has become as vital a component as any in the Aussie machine.
With the Indians’ apparent susceptibility outside the off stump, Cummins could well be the bowler who breaks the back of the Indian batting.
After a long battle with injuries, Cummins seems to have finally put those fears to bed. He is again bowling with searing pace and proving a tough proposition to handle.
While Starc and Hazlewood still represent Australia’s danger men, Cummins could just end up being the most troubling of them all.