Three days of intense preparation brought three moments of respite for Australia as India dominated the opening day of the Kotla Test after a shaky start. Gautam Gambhir led the way with his highest Test score, an unbeaten 149 that riled the Australians no end as India ended on 296 for 3.
One of Australia's biggest concerns all tour has been the non-performance of Brett Lee and the pacer sent his first ball spearing down leg, followed it up with a near wide outside off. When he did manage to hit the target, Virender Sehwag’s pad came in the way of a delivery that would have uprooted the middle stump. Aleem Dar had to make a simple lbw decision.
Rahul Dravid came out looking to play his shots, wasting no time in cover driving for three and glancing for a boundary. But he was guilty once again — third time this series — of chasing a wide delivery, and only managed a thick edge off Mitchell Johnson that Matthew Hayden caught inches from the ground at first slip. At 27 for 2 India were perfectly poised to squander the advantage of having won a good toss.
Thankfully for the home side, home boy Gambhir was in no mood to squander a golden opportunity to bat long. Sachin Tendulkar constantly spoke to Gambhir, presumably urging him to keep his concentration going, and it paid dividends. Even as Tendulkar batted freely, showing the balance and timing that has brought him more runs than any other batsman in history, Gambhir tightened his game and settled in for the long haul.<b1>
This was not to say that Gambhir looked to block everything. Rather, he cut out the risks, offering the full face of the bat to repeatedly drive the ball back down the ground through the on side as the bowlers tried to force the mistake of bowling around the stumps to the left-hander.
Tendulkar's stroke-filled stay came to an end against the run of play when he played a bit inside the line to Johnson on 68 and feathered an edge to the keeper.
Just as he had done earlier, Gambhir switched gears once more, this time speeding up as V.V.S. Laxman bedded down with some luscious strokes.
Gambhir trotted down the pitch to all the bowlers, shuffling and meeting the ball with an unhurried bat. When Shane Watson tried to keep things tight with Gambhir on 99, the fighter in Gambhir came to the fore as he gave the bowler the charge and carted an emphatic six over wide mid-on.
All through the day, Australia's bowlers had tried to get under Gambhir's skin, exchanging sharp words more than once. But more than the words Gambhir replied with strokes.
What really hurt Australia's bowlers — and once again they were guilty of bowling so short that that they gave the ball no chance to swing, conventional of reverse — were the 149 runs Gambhir piled up from 390 minutes of batting. Laxman got to 54 almost unnoticed, in good time, setting the stage perfectly for the second day.