India and Australia traded punches all day, on the opening day of the second Test match at Bangalore, and when bad light brought an early close, Australia were 285 for 5. Neither team will feel they got the better of the other, but after the humdinger in Mohali, no one will complain about how evenly the day ended.
The day began badly for India, with VVS Laxman unable to take part in the game, having failed to recover completely from the back spasms that forced him to bat with a runner in the first Test. To add to M S Dhoni’s discomfort was yet another lost toss, and despite overcast conditions Ricky Ponting chose to bat.
Sreesanth, in the team in place of Ishant Sharma, threatened much in his first spell, getting the ball to wobble in the air and keeping both Shane Watson and Simon Katich honest. It was an attritional early exchange, and one that opening batsmen won with some poise.
Having seen off the shine of the new ball and gained some degree of comfort over the conditions, Watson opened up, picking off boundaries with a regularity that made it impossible for Dhoni to exert any pressure.
Katich focussed on protecting the partnership, and when the Australians went into lunch without loss at 99, a long day beckoned for India.
Returning with belly full, however, India’s slow bowlers pulled the game back. Pragyan Ojha, looking more and more like a left-arm spinner in search of wickets, and Harbhajan Singh, extracting just enough bounce to keep the forward press in check. Katich (43) committed to a forcing shot early against Harbhajan and the ball slid off the outside edge to Rahul Dravid at slip who made a smart catch look easy.
Soon after Watson (57) poked defensively at Ojha and feathered a nick to the keeper. When Michael Clarke popped a catch to bat pad, Australia had lost three top order wickets in the span of 33 runs, forcing Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey to put together a partnership.
If the first session belonged to the batsmen and the second was dominated by the spinners, Zaheer Khan set the pace in the start of the final session of play. Hussey, looking to cash in on a delivery that was a fair way outside the off stump, through his hands at a cut shot, but only slashed the ball straight to Virender Sehwag at gully.
Ponting, who had spent the afternoon patiently biding his time, waiting for the short ball and pouncing on it with obvious glee, was on 77 and looking good for a second Bangalore century when Dhoni pulled a rabbit out of his hat.
The second ball of Suresh Raina’s part-time offspin somehow slid past Ponting’s vigilant bat and struck pad adjacent enough to convince Billy Bowden to raise the finger.
Marcus North and Tim Paine ensured that Australia moved to 285 for 5, but a nervy passage of play beckons on the second morning, with both teams desperate to gain the upper hand.