Lack of quality spinner costs Australia
India-Australia matches are becoming increasingly tight contests - and the first Test in Bangalore wasn't any different.
Winning the toss in the sub-continent has always been very important but on tracks like the one at the M._Chinnaswamy_Stadium, it's almost a must.
Australia did the expected by choosing to bat first and piled on the runs. One could argue that with the scoring rate, which hovered around three runs an over instead of the four we're so used to seeing when Ricky Ponting's side are batting, that they weren't really finding it easy going.
But if one looks closely, there were two reasons for that:
1. The track didn't offer substantial bounce and even the pace kept decreasing with every passing hour. A slow-and-low wicket is never conducive to exciting strokeplay and it showed here.
2. The most aggressive Australian batsman (Matthew Hayden) didn't fire and the absence of a Gilchrist-type player lower down the order showed up when they could've forced the issue.
Australia, though, managed not only to post a huge first innings total but also negated the Indian spin bowlers very efficiently. Ricky Ponting managed to fight the ghosts from his past (of not doing well in India) and Michael Hussey, yet again, proved his worth.
The more I see of Hussey, the more I appreciate him. His footwork is very decisive and he always plays with a lot of intent. The good thing is that even after crossing the three-figure mark, he doesn't drop his guard. It just shows his hunger to score as many runs as possible and make up for lost time (he made his Test debut at 29).
Nine wickets were shared between the quicker bowlers, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, and that might be of a little concern in the Indian dressing room. Not that there's anything wrong with fast bowlers taking most of the wickets, but to win a Test match at home, the Indian spin department must fire and do most of the damage, which it didn't in this match.
The Indian batting never got going and at one point looked like conceding a big first innings lead or even failing to save the follow-on. That's when Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer got together and pulled India out of the woods. This Indian team has always shown a lot of grit and fighting spirit and this was on display once again.
When Australia were struggling to dislodge the tail, they must've missed Shane Warne. Both Cameron White and Michael Clarke are nowhere near the quality of spin one would want to see at this level.
Australia did eventually manage to get a slender first innings lead but the moment had passed and Australia had lost their stronghold on the match. The time consumed and the runs scored by the lower Indian batsmen were vital in the context of the game.
In a Test match, time is of the essence in forcing a result and by batting a tad slower than their normal scoring rate and then taking a lot of overs to dismiss the opposition, it left Australia with very little time to score enough runs, put India in again, and then bowl them out in the last innings. Australia are surely missing Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist.
India did manage to hold on to their own in the last innings - but only just. The track was definitely not the best to bat on and it didn't suit the strokeplayers at all. And most Indians are precisely that and their inability to adapt to a different role, the role of a grinder, showed up.
Australia won more sessions than India and walked away with more positives. The key to start the tour strongly is to do well in conditions favouring the home side. Australia did it effectively (negated the spin, used reverse swing to counter the lack of bounce and played a lot off the front foot because of the lack of bounce and pace) and that has put the pressure back on the Indians to come up with new ideas for the remaining games.
But while India have a few things to ponder in the days prior to the second Test in Mohail, Australia have only one major worry - the lack of a quality spinner. But they can't do anything about that anymore.
Aakash Chopra opened the batting for India in 10 Tests, forming an all-Delhi combination with Virender Sehwag during India's tour of Australia in 2003-04. He also made his mark as an exceptional bat-pad fielder. He writes columns for the Hindustan Times and Cricinfo. He recently wrote Beyond the Blues, his season diary for Delhi's 2007-08 championship season.