What Test cricket gives you with one hand, it takes with the other. If the first day ended with the match keenly poised, after Zaheer Khan spearheaded a late revival, the second day was one where India finally batted, and set the pace, only to lose their openers at inopportune moments.
At 110 for 2, India scored at a pace the Australians never got close to, but losing Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag as the shadows lengthened on the Punjab Cricket Association stadium in Mohali will leave skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni feeling that danger still lurks.
India’s response to Australia’s 428 was instructive. The extra height of Australia’s bowlers and the surplus pace they generated meant the ball carried through a touch better on a pitch that had been baked for almost two days.
Gambhir left the short ball well, and Sehwag, despite being visibly irritated by a line and length designed to thwart his free-stroking ways, chose the balls he wanted to hit well.
Gambhir was the silent partner, working the gaps and turning the strike over, while Sehwag, feet rooted deep in his crease, crashed the ball through the off side with regularity. Ricky Ponting had a distinctly worried frown on his face as every bowler was attacked without exception. It was only when Gambhir fell over at the crease to be trapped in front by Mitchell Johnson that the visitors got some relief.
Rahul Dravid, having watched Sehwag reach 50 off only 38 balls with 9 fours, looked to be positive from the word go, timing the ball sweetly through the on side.
Sehwag, though, felt less and less comfortable with the ball being speared down the leg side or wide outside the off.
Just when it looked like he’d held himself back enough to play out the day, Sehwag (59) tried to work Johnson to the on-side and offered a catch off a leading edge to cover.
At 81 for no loss in the 14th over, India were right on top. At 110/2 when play ended, Australia had ensured that India did not run away with the game.
On the second morning, India accomplished their first task with aplomb, Harbhajan Singh drawing Shane Watson (126) forward in a defensive stroke and generating enough bounce to draw the bat-pad catch.
But Tim Paine, the extremely impressive 25-year-old who has taken the gloves in place of Brad Haddin, showed that he had the wherewithal to deal with alien conditions and pressure situations.
Defending with conviction when the spinners put together a string of good overs, and attacking decisively when the ball was there to be hit, Paine (92) was on the way to a well-deserved hundred when Zaheer Khan found the outside edge.
VVS Laxman plucked the ball centimetres from the ground, and Zaheer had a five-wicket haul he will remember simply for the amount of hard work he had to put in.