Given that there were apprehensions about how the middle-order would cope with the sustained aggression of the Australians, there was reason to be hopeful for a while about India's chances in the first match of the tri-series on Sunday. Two youngsters were asserting themselves in the middle, looking mature enough to brave the odds despite losing the big guns cheaply.
That the brief partnership between Gautam Gambhir and Rohit Sharma remained India's biggest talking point of the match shows how quickly it was back to square one for the visitors. Both perished to poor shots after having weathered the tough period and it wasn't long before India's worst fear came true. It was 102 for six from 91 for two in no time and the late resistance did little to reduce the headache this team will carry into the next match.
The bowling wasn't hostile throughout yet probing, the task had become tougher following the early dismissals of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, but the way Gambhir and Sharma in particular settled in was reassuring. They ran some sharp singles which justified the emphasis on youth and played some shots that showed there was some quality on offer as well.
Gambhir was quick to assess what Australia had in store for him. After forcing the openers back by keeping the ball short of good length, the bowlers changed the plan for him. They bowled fuller but the line was straight which meant Gambhir had no room to play the flowing drives through the covers that he loves. The left-hander was up to the task initially and showed that he had learnt from previous mistakes by concentrating on leaving the ball after seeing an attempted lift land just wide of mid-off.
The pressure had eased after Brett Lee’s opening spell and debutant Ashley Noffke was spraying the ball around. He was erratic in line and length and Gambhir was quick to pounce on the opportunities. But just as he was settling down, his old folly returned and despite poking outside off and surviving being caught in the slips twice in an over from Mitchell Johnson, he played a loose shot across the line.
Sharma was the best batsman on view and there were signs of true class in a few fours he struck through the off side to deliveries which were not half-volleys. The way he came down to meet the ball suggested he had a lot of time to play his shots before the penchant for trying one too many undid him. It was a fast one outside off and throwing his bat at that one at that point in time was unwise if not suicidal.
Manoj Tiwary’s stay was brief. Lee softened him up with a few short ones before slipping a fuller one through his bat and pad. Robin Uthappa too succumbed to a shorter one.
There were a few small positives for India and more of them were with the ball in a very short spell when Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth got going. The way they bowled was encouraging although it has to be said that they were operating at a time when the batsmen were not in the best of shape, going in and out according to the whims of the rain gods.
Nature had the last laugh in the end and MS Dhoni too was sporting a smile at the post-match media conference, saying it could have swung either way.