Although the arena was awash in bright sunshine all through, it was a day of contrasting shades here on Saturday.
A period of early Indian dominance after seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar made inroads was followed by an Australian fight back with skipper Michael Clarke and wicketkeeper batsman Matthew Wade at the heart of it.
Then, the hosts roared back in the last session with Ravindra Jadeja and Harbhajan Singh turning the game India’s way on the first day of the second Airtel Test at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium.
The day’s key moment arrived after a well-set Wade (62) cut a Harbhajan delivery lacking in length. Even as eyes turned towards the boundary, a jubilant Bhuvneshwar emerged with the ball after plucking an acrobatic catch at point.
At 208 for four before that vital dismissal — Clarke and Wade added 145 for the fifth wicket in 283 balls — Australia lost its next four wickets, and the initiative, for only 28 runs.
Clarke, winning the toss, batted with an amalgam of flair and solidity for a 186-ball 91 of character in an adverse situation and on a surface of uneven bounce. Then, he made a stunning declaration with his team at 237 for nine.
His captaincy streaked with aggression, Clarke reckoned his side would be better off by having a crack at the Indian openers in the three remaining overs of the day than the last wicket pair adding a few runs. The Aussies failed to strike but Clarke’s move showed his intent. He is a pro-active and a decisive leader of men.
Batting on this surface — several deliveries kept low and there was turn for the spinners in the last session — will demand application and a measure of luck. The match has possibilities and India, irrespective of the Australian collapse, will need to bat well.
Men of substance have already been on view in this game. Unmindful of a fractured cheekbone, the brave Wade produced an innings of enterprise and caution. The right-left pairing of Clarke and Wade forced the Indian bowlers to constantly shift line.
Clarke’s body and mind were once again in harmony. His straight six off R. Ashwin was a compelling stroke of footwork and timing. And he drove paceman Ishant Sharma down the ground with panache and cut fiercely when the bowler gave him the width.
Responsibility seems to bring the best out of this 31-year-old New South Welshman. He was circumspect in defence and displayed a fine sense of placement. Clarke, however, was fortunate on 52 when Cheteshwar Pujara could not latch on to a catch at short-leg off Ashwin.
Clarke’s back-footed punches off the pacemen pegged India back after Bhuvneshwar had dented the Aussie top-order. Given his technical sophistication, the Aussie captain is a formidable barrier for the bowlers.
Southpaw Wade cut and pulled for boundaries, and as he grew in confidence, ventured forward to strike hard in front of the wicket too. But then, his uppish cut off Harbhajan saw him walking back when he could have, with Clarke, piloted Australia to a position of strength.
In the first session, Ashwin got rid of the left-handed Phillip Hughes with a lovely flighted delivery that turned and bounced; ’keeper Dhoni took a diving catch on second attempt. There was less purchase for Ashwin as the day progressed but the off-spinner should have bowled more in the middle session that turned out to be barren for India.
Things happened quickly in the post-tea phase. Left-arm spinner Jadeja, getting his deliveries to grip, bowled a probing line to the right-handers. Moises Henriques succumbed to a delivery that spun sharply across and debutant Glenn Maxwell was done in by one that held its line with Dhoni taking a sharp catch.
Harbhajan’s line improved and he got a few deliveries to spin sharply and the bowlers built up pressure.
Running out of partners, Clarke finally lost his patience to take a swipe at Jadeja only to hear the rattling of the timber.
Bhuvneshwar shook the Australians in the morning.
He did not swing the ball as much but got it to move off the seam both ways from a back-of-a-length.
Bowling an immaculate line and with a strong wrist action, Bhuvneshwar got the sphere to first dart across the left-handed David Warner and then straightened it for his first Test scalp. He was fortunate to win a leg-before shout against Ed Cowan — the ball was angled into the southpaw but the ball pitched just outside leg.
Then Shane Watson attempted to pull Bhuvneshwar — it was a short-of-a-good-length delivery — but ended up missing the stroke as the ball kept low. On this surface, the batsmen need to be wary of the inconsistent bounce.
Australia — 1st innings: D. Warner b Bhuvneshwar 6 (8b, 1x4), Ed Cowan lbw b Bhuvneshwar 4 (13b, 1x4), P. Hughes c Dhoni b Ashwin 19 (57b, 4x4), S. Watson lbw b Bhuvneshwar 23 (31b, 4x4), M. Clarke b Jadeja 91 (186b, 9x4, 1x6), M. Wade c Bhuvneshwar b Harbhajan 62 (144b, 8x4), M. Henriques b Jadeja 5 (22b, 1x4), G. Maxwell c Dhoni b Jadeja 13 (22b, 2x4), P. Siddle lbw b Harbhajan 0 (14b), J. Pattinson (not out) 1 (6b), X. Doherty (not out) 0 (7b); Extras (b-10, lb-3): 13; Total (for nine wkts. decl. in 85 overs): 237.
Fall of wickets: 1-10 (Warner), 2-15 (Cowan), 3-57 (Watson), 4-63 (Hughes), 5-208 (Wade), 6-217 (Henriques), 7-233 (Maxwell), 8-236 (Siddle), 9-236 (Clarke).
India bowling: Bhuvneshwar 15-2-53-3, Ishant 17-5-45-0, Ashwin 15-6-41-1, Harbhajan 22-2-52-2, Jadeja 16-4-33-3.
India — 1st innings: M. Vijay (batting) 0 (12b), V. Sehwag (batting) 4 (1x4, 6b); Extras (w-1): 1; Total (for no loss in three overs): 5.
Australia bowling: Pattinson 2-1-1-0, Siddle 1-0-4-0.