Most of the talk on Indian cricket centres around batsmen and the number of centuries or runs they have under their belt. An Anil Kumble or Zaheer Khan sometimes comes under the spotlight, but the contribution of bowlers largely remains unheralded even when the team wins the odd game or series overseas.
It has hardly been different in Australia this time with the batting falling apart when it mattered in the first two Tests after – on both occasions -- the bowlers had prized out nine wickets on the first day of the match. Following another batting disorder in the do-or-die third Test, the bowlers bettered what they had previously done in good batting conditions to hand India as good a chance as they have ever had of winning a Test Down Under.
<b1>The pitch encouraged them with bounce off the good length, catching behind the stumps was sharp and there were at least two reckless shots early on. To say that these combined to help them bundle out Australia in 50 overs is far from the truth.
The young pace brigade showed loads of maturity by not getting carried away and produced some telling swing and seam bowling from an immaculate length to dismantle a strong batting line-up to the disbelief of everybody. Just thrice in 31 Tests in the last five years at home had Australia been dismissed for less than 212.
The batsmen now must apply themselves and occupy the crease for as long as possible to take the issue beyond the hosts. India are already ahead by 170 and no team in recent memory has reached such a strong position against the undisputed world champions at their own backyard after just two days. This also means that Australia have the time to hit back, but to minimise their chances, the glamour guns of the Indian team must do what they have failed to do in this series – come good in the second innings. They wasted an opportunity to get a big one in the first and after being handed another chance, must do better than what they have been.
Nobody foresaw such an anti-climactic turnaround after India lost their four remaining wickets in four overs after the overnight pair had seen through the first hour. Just 33 had been added to the tally and all were anticipating a long stay under the blazing sun for the bowlers and fielders.
Irfan Pathan spurred the team into action with a double blow in his second over. The left-armer got the ball to leave the left-handers from a testing line and after trapping debutant Chris Rogers with one that was full and didn't swing, forced Phil Jaques to go for one outside off that moved away. Michael Hussey fell in identical manner to RP Singh and at 22 for three, Australia took lunch with butterflies in the stomach.
Pathan wasn't as effective against the right-handers and with RP tiring after the first spell, it was crucial that Ishant Sharma delivered. India's right-arm version of Bruce Reid was perhaps the pick of the lot, stunning Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke with deliveries angled in which straightened after pitching. The one that got Ponting was the ball of the day, the sudden bounce taking the seasoned batsman by surprise.
Andrew Symonds and Adam Gilchrist threatened to take the initiative away and at this stage, India seemed to have lost the plot, but the tea break helped them regroup and plan afresh. Anil Kumble and Pathan put the brakes on scoring on resumption and once the captain got Symonds, RP returned to polish the tail off.
It was important for India to see through the day suffering minimum damage and although Wasim Jaffer perished outside off for the umpteenth time on this tour, Virender Sehwag's strokeplay ensured that apart from keeping nine wickets in hand, India also added a few runs to their lead.
It was too good a comeback after slipping from a position of strength a day earlier. A bigger test lies ahead and that is to bat with gumption in the second innings.