Melbourne : India let Australia off the hook and allowed them to end the first day in the first Test at 277 for six in the first innings at stumps at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) here Monday.
Debutant opener Ed Cowan (68) and under-pressure Ricky Ponting (68) hit half-centuries in their crucial 113-run third wicket stand while Indian pacers Umesh Yadav (3-96) and Zaheer Khan (2-49) did the damage. Test vice captain Brad Haddin was on 21 along with Peter Siddle (34) at stumps.
India had the whiphand soon after tea, when Zaheer dismissed skipper Michael Clarke (61) and Mike Hussey off successive deliveries and two overs later off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin (1-71) removed Cowan to leave Australia reeling at 214 for six. But Haddin and Siddle saved the day with their unfinished 63-run partnership for the seventh wicket.
Clarke made a brave decision to bat first despite heavy overnight rains, and openers Cowan and David Warner (37) weathered a difficult first hour before settling down for 46-run opening stand. They batted well in tandem but had contrasting approaches. While Cowan was watchful, Warne was forceful.
A brief rain delay broke Warner’s concentration and he was caught behind gloving a short ball from Yadav’s first delivery after the break. Marsh survived just six balls before pushing hard at a Yadav delivery outside off for an easy catch.
At 46/2, Ponting walked in and was soon greeted with a bouncer from Yadav that struck on his helmet grille trying to pull a ball which then almost dropped onto his stumps. Ponting, who came into this match struggling to retain his place in the side, settled down soon and hit back at his detractors with a crafty half-century.
Ponting’s balance and timing were superb, perhaps helped by last week’s batting camp. Ponting fell for 62, caught at second slip off a Yadav delivery that moved away from him and induced a sliced bat.
Cowan was cautious in his approach in both the sessions and allowed Ponting to take charge in the second. They ran well between the wickets and their 113-run stand came off 200 balls. At a time when the partnership grew strong, Yadav got a delivery to rear up menacingly forcing Ponting to edge it to V.V.S. Laxman in the slip.
Cowan and Clarke then added a 46-run stand for the fourth wicket as Australia went past the 200-run mark. But three wickets in four overs, including two in successive deliveries, swung the game in India’s favour as Australia slumped to 214/6 from 205/3.
Clarke was out first, chopping Zaheer’s delivery onto his stumps and in the next delivery the veteran Hussey was dismissed for a golden duck caught behind to a ball that rose sharply on him but appeared to miss his bat and gloves.
Two overs later, Cowan’s five-hours gritty knock came to an end when he was caught behind off Ashwin. Cowan’s innings was the second highest for an Australian opener on debut since Wayne Phillips’ 159 at the WACA in November 1983.
The pressure will now be on Hussey to retain his side in the team once Shane Watson returns to the side from injury. Both Ponting and Hussey were under tremendous pressure for the first time in their career. While Ponting might have assured his place in the side for some time the pressure will increase on Hussey.