|Ravichandran Ashwin, after one of his six wickets, on Friday. (PTI)
Chennai: Adam Gilchrist’s personal secret was to start his innings thinking he was already batting on 20 or 30. That way he would feel that he had overcome that nervous starting period and be more calm and relaxed.
Michael Clarke may or may not have a similar approach to batting, but his positive and fluent unbeaten 103 on Friday is sure to have a huge influence on the outcome of the series.
If you thought this inexperienced Australian line-up would be short on confidence and aggression, the Australians did enough to dispel such doubts on the opening day.
The Indians had everything going in their favour an hour after lunch when Australia were reduced to 153 for five. But Clarke’s presence of mind and application in carving out an innings of sheer class and temperament took them to 316 for seven at the close.
Equally impressive was his 151-run partnership with Moises Henriques for the sixth wicket, with the debutant contributing a solid 68.
The glee on the Australian captain’s face once he won the toss was not to be missed, and by the evening, the smile had only broadened.
Clarke should also remain grateful to Kumar Dharmasena when the umpire ruled him not out after a big inside edge on to his pads was picked up by Cheteshwar Pujara at forward short leg. He was on 39 then and the incident is bound to renew calls for the introduction of the Decision Review System though the BCCI has staunchly opposed it.
Ravichandran Ashwin was the unlucky bowler. The off-spinner was the most impressive and successful picking up six for 88 in his 30 overs. Until Ravindra Jadeja dismissed Mitchell Starc, Ashwin had picked all the six wickets to fall igniting talk of whether he would do an Anil Kumble.
“I would be lying if I said that it (picking up all the ten wickets in an innings) didn’t cross my mind,” he admitted later.
The Indians had decided to go in without Pragyan Ojha, their most successful spinner in the series against England. The presence of many left-handers in the Australian top-order did influence the decision but it also meant more pressure on those picked in the XI.
Harbhajan Singh seemed to be a bundle of nerves in his 100th Test as he tried to bring in an extra yard of pace in his deliveries. This resulted in him bowling short and getting hammered away.
Ashwin though was a revelation. Having worked with his coach Sunil Subramaniam on his body position seemed to have done wonders. His proximity to the conditions on his home ground helped as he extracted enough spin, dip and bounce to trouble the batsmen.
His absence from the field for parts of the second and third sessions because of a niggle on his finger helped the Clarke and Henriques partnership to flourish.
There was very little reverse swing for the pacers. Ishant Sharma’s tendency to bowl a leg stump line didn’t help and Bhuvneshwar Kumar learnt the hard way the difference between playing in Test and limited-overs cricket.
With Ed Cowan and David Warner in a belligerent mood from the outset and realising that the pacers would be of very little help, Mahendra Singh Dhoni brought Harbhajan in the fifth over. Ashwin’s introduction in the eighth over put the Aussies in trouble.
Warner (59) survived a catch and a stumping chance in Ashwin’s first two overs. A little later Cowan was startled by the bounce and paid the penalty for coming down the wicket.
Phillip Hughes dragged one on to his stumps and Shane Watson (28) was leg before to one that kept low. Warner’s luck ran out when he was trapped in front playing of the back foot. Matthew Wade didn’t last long and it was left to Clarke and Henriques to get into the rescue act.
If Clarke showed immense courage in sticking to his plans by going into the Test with a four-pronged pace attack on a bone-dry wicket, he produced an innings that would now allow Australia to call the shots. What stood out was his use of the feet and handling of the spinners. The Australian way of doing things is sure to leave others in awe.
Clarke’s 23rd overall and third Test hundred in India came in the day’s last over when he hit Jadeja over mid off for a boundary. This was his ninth hundred as captain and now has 2395 runs from 22 matches since taking charge.
One Alastair Cook had almost single-handedly dictated the fortunes during England’s triumph here a couple of months back. Will Clarke follow in his footsteps?