India's bowlers recaptured the spirit that had animated them in Melbourne to fight back on the second day of the third Test here at the WACA.
But such was the cumulative effect of their batsmen's failure, on the first day, and David Warner's balanced belligerence, spread across two and a half sessions, that despite managing 10 wickets for 155 runs, India trailed Australia by 208 on the first innings.
India had a session to bat on Saturday evening. And that's when the wretchedness of this tour, as if it were possible, grew even more miserable. Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, and V.V.S. Laxman left in such a hurry — hustled by pace and bounce, worked out by swing and control — that the mortifying possibility of a two-day finish loomed like a foul-smelling troll. India kept it at bay, only just.
Rahul Dravid (32 batting) and Virat Kohli (21 batting) took the touring side to stumps on 88 for four. Another 120 is needed to trouble Australia to bat again.
Many of the 14 wickets that fell on Saturday, certainly the four Indian ones, and Warner's 180, in contrast, showcased the WACA's singular dichotomy: the extra speed and lift make it an extremely difficult place to get started, but once the batsmen that get past that phase, with skill and no little luck, run-making can become a pleasure, for the pace and bounce can be harnessed.
Gambhir and Tendulkar were dismissed by Mitchell Starc — deliveries on either end of the spectrum, deliveries that showed how devastating the tall, young left-armer can be when he gets it right. Gambhir was bullied by a bouncer that didn't just soar, it also seamed from leg to off to be fended to gully; Tendulkar fell over a fast in-swinger, and while the great man didn't seem happy with the ‘lbw', it was out.
Sehwag and Laxman were consumed in the corridor by Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus respectively, the batsmen's lack of footwork — and inadequate adjustment by the hands that have covered for this weakness so well, so often — contributing to the dismissals.
Dravid, with a greater emphasis than normal on strokeplay, and Kohli, looking as if he belongs, kept India in the Test. These two and the ones that follow, effectively the lower-order, require a comeback at least twice as good as the one the bowlers managed on Saturday morning.
Umesh Yadav ignited the turnaround when he put a ball from around the wicket through Ed Cowan's defences. Cowan had batted solidly and industriously for his 74, the glide past gully fetching him good returns. But he couldn't weld bat and right pad securely together on this occasion, right after drinks.
Shaun Marsh and Ricky Ponting didn't last long. Marsh, the local boy, got one from Umesh that climbed on him from just short of a length; the angle across the left-hander played its role, for it's difficult to cover on a bouncy pitch. Laxman completed a sharp catch at second slip, moving smartly to his left. Ponting, who had been gifted a half-tracker by Umesh, received something altogether less pleasant: a sharp in-swinger that had him falling over before flattening the middle stump.
Warner, at the other hand, continued to show what can be achieved with a keen eye, strong shoulders, and quick arms. From a low, stable base, head steadier than a paperweight, he picked the length up freakishly early. Thus was he able to strike, with a short back-lift, deliveries as fast as 140 kmph straight down the ground for six. Till his dismissal, Warner also exhibited a shrewd batting brain: he was always on the lookout for the short single, his speed and endurance ensuring twos and threes were run regularly; when he was struck a painful blow on the elbow, he knocked the ball around for the easy runs on offer before he regained feeling in his arm.
Warner received a life on 126, when Kohli, filling in for Dravid at first slip, put down a chance off Zaheer Khan. But it was M.S. Dhoni's catch; the keeper didn't move.
Zaheer and Ishant Sharma formed a heroic partnership under the merciless sun after lunch. Ishant had Warner well caught by a back-and-side-stepping Umesh, the thickset left-handed opener undone by boredom more than anything else.
Zaheer showed his mastery from around the wicket, manipulating the ball into straightening to have Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin caught behind. Zaheer enjoyed the Haddin dismissal, a cricketing putdown after the verbal spat.
Umesh earned his first five-wicket haul; R. Vinay Kumar took his first Test wicket; Siddle helped himself to 30: these were the events of note, as Australia was dismissed for 369.
Sadly for the Indians, any good cheer they may have experienced was soon to die; the hundreds of seagulls that waited expectantly may well have been vultures.
Keywords: India's tour of Australia