While the lone Australian specialist spinner's struggle on the first day was somewhat along the expected lines, the manner in which their batsmen — save the hardworking Michael Hussey — failed to dominate a second string Indian bowling attack has raised eyebrows.
Medium pacers and spinners alike pushed the Australians onto the back foot and it was the Board President's XI who took the honours for the second consecutive day. The Australians, who ended on 191 for 4, still trail by 264 with two days remaining in this match. Before that, the BP XI had extended their first-innings score to a healthy 455.
Irfan Pathan, who has been nowhere near his best in the recent past, bowling at a rather friendly pace, began the rot. The delivery with which he got Matthew Hayden, a swinging ball that left the bat thanks to a perfectly delivered seam, was in just the perfect area.
Pathan's celebration when Parthiv Patel pouched the catch was a bit over the top, but given how brutally Hayden has destroyed bowlers in the past, Pathan included, you could forgive him.
For a time Simon Katich, set to open in the first Test ahead of Phil Jaques, and Ricky Ponting, began to gain control of the proceedings, but that was only because Manpreet Gony was off the boil and Pathan tiring. When spin came on in the form of local left-armer Pragyan Ojha, the doubts returned and an indecisive prod put an end to Katich's vigil. Ojha pushed one through a bit quicker and all Katich could do was edge to short leg via the pad.
Then came a passage of play that summed up the match so far in many ways. Piyush Chawla, tossing his leg-breaks up and getting serious revolutions on his googlies, put doubts in Ponting's head. Unsure of which way the ball would turn, or how much, Ponting defended with hard hands and drove half-heartedly, repeatedly spearing the ball off the inside edge. But the Australian captain is one of the best batsmen in the world, his average of just over 12 in India notwithstanding. Ponting counter-attacked, coming down the pitch and making clean contact with lofted hits back over the bowler's head. A couple of sixes later Ponting seemed a different batsman, and was settling down nicely when Chawla coaxed a lunging drive to a googly that drifted nicely to draw bat away from pad and then spun back to slip into the gap created, uprooting the middle stump. Ponting had made 41 in good time, but that he could be foxed so easily by a 20-year-old leggie still learning his trade should have Harbhajan Singh licking his lips in anticipation.
Even as Ponting fell on the stroke of tea, Michael Clarke was in the practice nets just outside the ground, warming up with some throw downs. When he walked out to the middle, though, his usually twinkle-toed footwork failed him and a Chawla legbreak that pitched in line and turned ever so slightly trapped him in front. At 128 for 4, the Australians were in danger of squandering another of their critical match practice days.
Hussey however ensured that all was not lost, batting with discipline and care, ensuring that he spent a long time at the crease, ending the day unbeaten on 54. Brad Haddin, who took a more aggressive approach will have an opportunity on Saturday to build on his 34.
After batsmen, bowlers trouble Ponting and Co.