Australia v India – Adelaide, Day 1: Dogged Pujara saves sloppy India

India 9-250 (C. A. Pujara 123, R. J. Sharma 37, P. J. Cummins 2-49)


Given the carnage at the top of Australian men’s cricket in the wake of Cape Town, this Test match has felt a very long time coming. Though not long enough for some to absorb certain messages, it seems. As some of our former notables continued to publicly argue the ‘tough, hard’ mantra as an essential crutch to Australia’s cricket identity, debate quickly resumed all the grace, empathy and understanding that has so characterised the Australian men’s game in recent times. Cultural reviews be damned, or so it seems. It is a reminder that many will feel reputations and legacies are at stake in this upheaval.


Fortunately, the man in the hot seat gets the message. From the moment he assumed the captaincy in the most dire circumstance, Tim Paine has displayed a remarkable equanimity. Given his own personal journey these last twelve months, this does him great credit. Let’s not forget, as the last domestic summer began, Paine had ceded the keeping spot in Hobart to Matt Wade. There was some question over Paine even commanding an automatic spot in Tasmania’s Shield side any longer. His selection for the first Ashes test was considered a selectors’ bolt from the blue. That he has absorbed all that has ensued without his head exploding says much for the quality of his character.


You suspect Paine will need to call upon every ounce of that character as this test summer progresses. A baking hot Adelaide Oval makes for an uncompromising beginning. The recent transformation of the Adelaide test into a day/night format has altered the ground’s role in Australian cricket lore as radically as the its reconstitution as a football stadium. Famously long straight and short square, the ground now more closely resembles the standard football oval boundary dimensions. A drop-in wicket now shows little wear and tear, but sports a thicker grass cover than previous. In Shield cricket, it has become a result ground.


A blazing hot forecast persuaded Virat Kohli to ignore this when he won the toss. It seemed a reasonable decision to bat, but India’s top order proved unprepared for the early challenge. India’s first four all perished in similar manner – hard hands chasing swing away from the line of the batsman’s eyes, with subsequent edges peppering the cordon.  At least Kohli could console himself that he fell to a blinding catch: Usman Khawaja leaving aside his distracting game prelude to dive to his left in the gully to snare a catch that will take some beating this season.


At 4-41, India was in familiar early disarray in an Australian series. Time and again now test series are compromised by scheduling. Though India have been in the country for some time, they have been occupied with white ball cricket, playing only a single, desultory red ball warm up. In conditions long known to drastically differ from their home, the BCCI continues to sign off on fixtures that play into Australian hands.


Starc, Cummins and, particularly, Hazlewood all bowled with pace, skill and discipline. This is no great shock. They are a formidable combination, a fact that seems to have been underplayed in assessments of Australia’s chances in this series. Yet as well as they bowled, they were greatly assisted by indulgent Indian batting notably lacking a sense of its own limitations in these conditions.


The sole and notable exception to this criticism was Cheteshwar Pujara. Maintaining a compact shape, playing with soft hands, and playing within strict limitations, he was the only batsman to make the Australians work hard in the heat. Coming in at the start of the third over, he was not out at lunch with a paltry 11 to his name, but India had lost no further wickets.


Perilously poised at a lunchtime 4-56, Pujara was assisted after lunch by Rohit Sharma, a man with a formidable white ball record who has largely failed to transfer that to test cricket. Sharma produced one imperious pull shot off Cummins which cleared the rope, and followed it with a stunning off-driven six off the same bowler. They were evidence of a significant talent. The score advanced to 80.


Nathan Lyon should have claimed a wicket in his first over, but Peter Handscomb at short leg failed to clasp the chance. Unperturbed, Lyon had continued to test the batsman, as he customarily does now. The omission of Mitch Marsh for this game prompted concern in some regarding Australia’s bowling balance. In truth, few of Marsh’s test bowling efforts have ever justified his all-rounder status. Lyon’s ability to bowl long, challenging spells have become the real key to the pacemen getting adequate rest.


Lyon now tempted Sharma to clear midwicket. Marcus Harris clutched a catch, but barely failed to avoid crossing the boundary rope in doing so. Unprepared to accept that good fortune, Sharma produced an even more feckless hoick to the next ball and comfortably perished in Harris’s hands once more. On this evidence, Sharma combines great ball striking ability with an utterly clueless appreciation of match situations.


With Pujara crying out for support, Rishabh Pant produced a bewildering innings. Flailing recklessly, he could have succumbed to Starc six times in two overs, but ironically fell trying to defend an artful Lyon off spinner which gripped. At 6-127, it all appeared just too hard for most of the Indians.


Finally. Ravi Ashwin showed some inclination to support Pujara. Playing unspectacularly, but soundly, they advance beyond tea, and within sight of the second new ball, adding 62 in the process. It was unspectacular, but it appeared the first partnership to place any importance on the contest. With the new pill looming, Cummins finally took advantage of Ashwin’s inclination to square up to straight deliveries, producing an edge.


The appearance of Ishant Sharma bode poorly for the remainder of the Indian tail, prompting Pujara to become more expansive. To this point, he’d been content to play few memorable shots, content with accumulation. Now he showed skill in farming the strike and finding gaps. His dominant bottom hand came more into play as he forced the pace. The pitch was now flatter, the attack inevitably tiring. This only underlined India’s earlier culpability.


Starc prove too good for Ishant, but Mohammed Shami was scarcely required to face as Pujara took charge. He appeared lucky on 89, when a possible faint tickle failed to draw much of an appeal, but he had more than earned the fortune. He now raced to his 16th test century, then well beyond. Starc and Hazlewood soon became ragged. For the first time, Australia appeared out of ideas.


It required a superb fielding effort from Cummins to remedy the situation, reminding us what a fine all round cricketer he has become. Gathering at mid-on, Cummins collected and threw down the one visible stump in a fluid motion. Pujara was found a foot short of his crease for 123. There’ll likely be prettier innings played this summer, but few may prove more valuable.


It now falls to Australia’s much questioned batting order to determine the true value of India’s seemingly modest 9-250. It may yet prove competitive. But those bullish for Indian prospects will have been perturbed by what they saw today. A significant reason India has never won a series in this country is because too many of its past batsmen have been prepared to live fast, die early, and leave an inconsequential corpse. Pujara excepted, no one disrupted that narrative today. If they expect to win this series, they will need to do much better.


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About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Luke Reynolds says

    Great wrap of Day 1 JB.
    As always, wait until the second team gets to bat. But very happy with the Aussie’s day one efforts.
    I so want Tim Paine to succeed in the captain’s role. Very impressive person and possibly the neatest Australian Test keeper I’ve seen.

  2. The Australian bowling is as good as the batting is poor. Watching the first session the Indian batsmen (batters are for fish and baseball) looked to want to impose dominance more than earn respect. The heat and the flattening wicket seemed to doom us when we looked set to get them for under 150.
    Pujara is the quintessential ugly duckling. A plodder in a team of dashers. John Edrich, Larry Gomes. Batsmen who never looked in but never got out. Every team needs one.
    If Australia could produce bouncy wickets all series (on drop ins??) the Indian technique looks vulnerable. But normal service will resume and Kohli’s dismissal was just a down payment on future massacres. His footwork and eye are a class above. Be afraid. Very afraid.

  3. John Butler says

    Luke, I’m not convinced our batting will be as poor as it’s touted. India’s pace attack remains a very unknown quantity in Australian conditions.

    PB, the name of the game in session one was to survive, not dominate. If they’d survived, the domination would have followed. They need to shelve their egos. Lack of real preparation is a factor. Tellingly, Pujara wasn’t involved in any of the white ball stuff.

    Apologies to Marcus Harris for substituting him with Travis Head, denying him his first test catch. Now amended.

  4. Much in your piece JB – especially your comment on Tim Paine. The on-field tone of the Australian team seemed OK (from the lounge-room). Pujara and white-ball cricket is an interesting observation.

  5. Wish list 1 ALL countries get there head out of there backside and programme both quantity and quality re warm up games for real cricket test matches.
    2 Blow up all bloody drop in crap pitches they don’t break up and have lost there uniqueness pure stupidity that in the driest state in the driest continent that football had so much pull
    3 Rohit Sharma incredible natural ability but !
    Great wrap up of the day,JB personally have more faith in a axe murderer than the aussie batting we wait and see thank you

  6. John Butler says

    JTH, there was nothing untoward visible on TV. Yet it didn’t prevent the Aussies going hard. Having a big mouth has never been the same thing as being tough.

    Rulebook, at what number would the axe murderer bat? Number six, I’d guess. :)

  7. JB – every paragraph a winner. I feel like I know the game.

    On the face of it, 9/250 seems like the fielding team’s day.
    Especially after winning the toss and batting in 40oC.
    Though the next loose step on the highwire of Test cricket is never too far away – and can change things.

    I’m very excited for TD Paine.
    Long may the voices of consideration consider.

  8. Always delighted to see Nathan Lyon in team. Apart from his bowling prowess, he behaves as a gentleman and good sportsman should. It is irritating to see some of the other bowlers act with such childish and hatefilled-looking demeanours. While I’m having a bleat…why have the Aussie side adopted the inane habit of “tippy-tapping” knuckles after nearly every delivery. Can they please practise acting like men, and not like all the other “little boys in the playgroup”?

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