If you didn't know what champions were made of, Day 1 of the New Years' Test at the SCG might just give you an idea. Australia, after opting to bat first by winning the toss, saw through a day filled with ebbs and flows and ultimately came out on top at the end of the day. It was perhaps a classic day for Test cricket, with everyone having something to say in the proceedings - the pacemen, the spinners, the batsmen and not to forget the umpires.
Just as one thought it was a win-the-toss-bat-first wicket, India got off to a superb start, thanks to RP Singh who picked up the first wicket of the morning with the Aussies yet to register a run. Singh bowled it outside the off-stump and the ball took a huge bounce. Jaques tried to play the square cut off the backfoot, only to manage a nick through to Dhoni, who caught it waist hight. Jaques fell without scoring off just 9 balls.
The Indian bowlers, led by RP Singh bowled superbly through the first hour, maintaining a consistent and nagging line and length, with very few loose deliveries. Singh was rewarded yet again for his persistence when he produced a beauty to get rid of Matthew Hayden. He pitched it just short of a length, the ball squared up the batsman and the edge went straight to Tendulkar who took a great catch to his right. Australia were at 27/2 when Hayden fell.
Michael Hussey then joined skipper Ricky Ponting as the pair looked to consolidate after the loss of the two early wickets. Ponting was absolutely lucky to survive a certain caught behind appeal from Sourav Ganguly as the ball took a meaty edge going down the leg side to wicketkeeper Dhoni. Television replays confirmed the edge and it looked as if umpire Mark Benson denied India their third wicket of the morning session. Ponting was on 17, when umpire Benson seemed to have made a big mistake.
Ponting, in the meanwhile looked like reversing his fortunes when he played some scorching strokes off Ishant Sharma. The rookie followed his initial good showing with some really erratic bowling, with plenty of width on offer. The Australian skipper looked tentative early on against his nemesis, Harbhajan Singh. But to Harbhajan's dismay this time around, he was well set before Kumble introduced the off-spinner into the attack. He was all at sea when ten minutes or so before lunch, Dhoni missed a tough stumping down the leg side off Harbhajan and Ponting survived again. He tracked the line of the ball well but failed to gather it as Ponting was already committed to the stroke as he left his crease.
The hosts began the post-lunch session extremely positively with Ponting taking the attack to the bowlers, especially RP Singh and in the process reaching his first fifty of the series. But just as it looked that the partnership was threatening to take the game away from India, Harbhajan struck. He bowled the straighter one on the off and middle line. Ponting went back and tried to work it on the on side and in the process, gets a thick inside edge on to the pad in front of middle stump. Umpire Benson showed no signs of hesitation while sending the Australian skipper back, after he gave him the lifeline on 17. Australia were 119/3 when Ponting departed. Just as he walked back, he showed signs of disagreement with the umpire's decision and a possible dissent, clearly stating that the ball took an inside edge.
In the very next over, India made further inroads into the Australian middle-order when RP Singh dimissed the other set batsman Michael Hussey for 41. Finally, RP got his reward for constant persistance with the outside the off-stump line. The ball angled into Hussey and straightened. Hussey played it off the back foot opening the face of the bat. The ball took the edge and went to first slip, as Tendulkar took a low and neat catch. Australia could not add to their score after Ponting's dismissal.
India managed to trigger a middle-order collapse when Michael Clarke was the next one to follow Hussey back to the pavilion. He scored no more than just a single. Harbhajan flighted it outside the off-stump and the ball turned a bit into Clarke. The batsman moved forward and failed to offer a shot, with the ball hitting the pad plumb in front off off and middle leaving the umpire with no option but to raise his finger in a jiffy. Australia were in all sorts of trouble after Clarke departed, at 121/5.
RP Singh's capped his superb spell of swing bowling of the morning when triggered a massive Australian collapse as they lost wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist for 7. Superb seam position from Singh, just short of length with a late swing that angled the ball into the left-hander. Gilchrist played a forward push but only to see the ball take the outside edge to Tendulkar's safe hands in the first slip, with the ball dipping very low on him. Gilchrist went for 7, leaving Australia at 135 for 6 when he departed.
Australia were in absolute disarray at that moment. And then came the comeback with Andrew Symonds and Brad Hogg. India couldn't pick a wicket in the rest of the session largely due to a combination of factors. Brad Hogg came out with an aggressive counter-attack mindset, taking the attack to the Indian bowlers. He took his chances, and at the same time played some classic batsmanesque strokes in his innings. Hogg was especially severe on anything short from the Indian bowlers. He cut proficiently at the same time, drove with equal effect.
Symonds in the meanwhile, played totally contrary to his reputation of being a bowler's bully. He was cautious, tentative but at the same time busy, pushing the Indian fielders hard whenever possible and scampering for ones and twos. His innings was also composed of some streaky and meaty boundaries. Symonds was lucky to survive a straightforward caught behind appeal when Ishant Sharma produced an outside edge off his bat. Steve Bucknor, the umpire denied another wicket to the tourists and since then, the partnership has just grown from strength to strength. The Indian body language took a beating too, with many errors coming through in the field.
The horrors of the Misbah-Sami partnership that kept the Indian bowlers at bay in their recently concluded home series against Pakistan began to haunt them again, when the duo transformed their innings from a damage control rescue act to a march towards a confident score for Australia. Brad Hogg proved why he is no kitten with the bat as he raced to his maiden Test fifty in the first ball after tea. Symonds, who was tailing Hogg for a large part of the stand finally came to the party himself after reaching his fifty. He came into his own bully self and unsettled the Indian spinners by stroking boundaries consistently. He also smashed two huge sixes off Harbhajan Singh, that finally took him past his partner Brad Hogg. Symonds would then bat through to complete his second career hundred. The partnership swelled beyond Kumble's imagination adding over 150 runs for the seventh wicket.
It seemed like it was a different day for the Indian captain. Wicketless for 15 overs, he continued with his routine and was finally rewarded in the first ball of his 16th over, when he broke the Hogg-Symonds partnership. Hogg tried to force the ball through the off-side off his backfoot, but was done in by the extra bounce. The ball took the outside edge and Rahul Dravid snaps it easy at first slip. Hogg scored a brilliant 79, which might just seem match-winning in the context of the game when he walked in. The partnership yielded 173 runs off 36.4 overs, going at over 4.7 an over, which might have perhaps changed the balance of the game.
Just as India thought they broke the partnership, they were in for an even bigger goosehunt. Symonds did not hold himself back and punished the Indian bowlers everytime they slacked. Kumble tried all his options, including bringing Tendulkar into the attack, but to no avail. Symonds showed why he is not all power, when he caressed some delightful strokes through the cover. Brett Lee came into bat with the same mindset that Hogg left off. He kept scoring runs at a fair pace without giving too much away to the Indian bowlers. Symonds in the meanwhile imposed himself over proceedings adding a 70 run partnership with Lee.
India: Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Rudra Pratap Singh, Ishant Sharma
Australia: Phil Jaques, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds, Adam Gilchrist, Brad Hogg, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark