A magnificent Ricky Ponting century underscored the dangers of tagging Australia as anything but favourites as India's bowlers were made to fight hard to keep Australia down to 254 for 4 at the end of the first day's play in this four-Test series. At one stage, when Ponting, who scored his first Test hundred in India, and Simon Katich were rattling along to their 166-run second-wicket partnership, it seemed as though all was lost for India. But at the end of the day, with Ponting gone, and Michael Hussey still unbeaten having made a start, India will feel the honours are even.
Ponting began the day well, winning an important toss and batting first on a pitch that proved to be true and slow. It was only a fortuitous break that got Indian tails up, as early as the third ball of the game, when a Zaheer Khan outswinger went past Matthew Hayden's half-hearted drive. There was a sound, most likely bat brushing pad, and a deviation, probably late swing, and umpire Asad Rauf was convinced enough to uphold an energetic appeal.
Having gotten rid of Hayden before he could open his account, India had surged ahead in the game, but what lay ahead was hard toil. Ponting, who averages a sorry 12 in India in his previous attempts in the country, showed just why he is rated as the pre-eminent batsman of recent times. Zaheer and Ishant Sharma kept up the pressure, bowling with heart and Ponting and Katich were forced to work hard. When Ponting played the big shot, either the pull or the cut, he did not always make clean contact, the ball not racing off his bat as it normally does.
But as it is with all great players, Ponting weathered the difficult period and then made it count. It's not for nothing that the Australian captain averages 98 in New Zealand, 92 in Pakistan, 78 in the West Indies, 66 in South Africa, 50 in Sri Lanka and 43 in England. If victory in India was Steve Waugh's Final Frontier, scoring a Test hundred in the same lands was the only thing left for Ponting the batsman to achieve.
Katich showed just how hungry he was to make each chance count, shutting one end down with discipline and patience, allowing Ponting the time and space to exorcise his India demons at the other end. Ponting settled into a confident and assertive rhythm, fronting up to anything dangerous with solid defence when needed, watchfully leaving the ball alone at other times.
When Katich (66), in an uncharacteristic lapse, chased a wide Ishant delivery to edge to the keeper, ending his almost four-hour stay at the crease, India finally had their second wicket, with 166 on the board.
Soon, when Ponting guided Kumble through point to bring up his first ton in India, he had 36 centuries in all, and more as captain (16) than anyone else in history. Ponting's innings, as good as it was, should have ended on 110, when he squeezed out a full ball from Kumble, presenting the bowler with a return catch, but the standing umpires felt that the ball had been played into the ground, and without asking for help from the television umpire, turned down the appeal. It did not cost India much as Ponting (123) failed to make contact with a sweep shot and was adjudged lbw to Harbhajan Singh.