Melbourne: Anil Kumble lost the toss, but won the 3mobile Test series opening day for his team.
Some may argue that Australias 337 for nine at stumps was intimidating enough (more so as centurion Matthew Hayden described the MCG wicket as quite tricky and tough), but that shouldnt take anything away from Team Indias fightback in the second and third sessions on Wednesday.
The hosts, indeed, were 111 without loss at lunch and nothing seemed right for Kumble in his toughest test yet as captain. The sequence began with the toss, with Kumble having to bowl first despite a 2-2 attack. It didnt get any better with Hayden and Phil Jaques rapidly gaining in confidence.
A Kumble googly undid the flourishing partnership (Jaques falling for 66) and, then, Zaheer Khan evicted captain Ricky Ponting with a beauty which held its line.
From 135 for no loss it became 162 for two. Another Kumble googly got rid of Michael Hussey and in a flash, the Indians body language changed.
Smart deliveries and a couple of poor shots kept the dressing room-lane busy and at one stage, it looked as if India would have to bat before the close.
That didnt happen but the Australians have felt the heat all too quickly. That the visitors could take nine wickets in two sessions, with Kumble returning another fiver (five for 84), is going to crease Tim Nielsens forehead.
Not that the Indians dont have to worry. One of their top concerns, clearly, centres around curbing Hayden.
On Tuesday, during a brief one-on-one with The Telegraph, the burly opener had made the point about thin Test cricket in the lead-up to the series.
But, then, Hayden gave no evidence of Test cricket-related rustiness as he scored his sixth Boxing Day hundred (overall, fourth versus India) to take his tally to an awesome 28.
He just hasnt looked back after an imposing performance in the 2000-01 series in India.
I enjoy the Boxing Day Tests at the MCG… The family is there… The spirit of Christmas is there as is a huge crowd (68,465)… To me, its about the people… Playing in front of a crowd… Yes, I was pumped up when I got my hundred, Hayden said.
He added: Im enjoying my cricket and not looking too far ahead (eight short of 100 Tests)… Its all about performance in this Australian team…
Kumble, who chose Harbhajan Singh over Ishant Sharma (we needed to play our four best bowlers), too is performance-driven.
It was important to come back into the Test in the second session and we did… Our intensity was good after lunch… I think Zaheer and RP (Singh) bowled well in the morning, but without luck.
Incidentally, Kumble placed his sterling effort at the top of his achievements. First day of the series and a Boxing Day Test at the MCG… Its very special…
Of course, yes.
Footnote: A streaker and another bare-chested man, who breached security in the post-tea session, have been arrested and face heavy penalties. The streaker, it appeared, was led away with the Tricolour covering him. If thats confirmed, then many will have some answering to do.
HAYDEN ON KUMBLE
He’s right up there with the two gentlemen (Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralidharan)… He’s quite unorthodox and his venomous balls are the top-spinner and the googly… He often gets more bounce… Champion bowlers produce champion deliveries…
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT IN MELBOURNE