When you think of it, it's almost crazy to even imagine a sport that lasts five days, yes we're in 2020. The age of social media, the digital age, times where gratification is at the behest of our fingertips in an instant, and then there is Test cricket, which goes on for long hours for five days.
And mind you, there are keen takers of Test cricket, for they are the outliers but they fell in love with the very game because of the vagaries of the format and its spellbinding nature. Test cricket epitomizes life, nothing comes easy but there is nothing that can't be achieved with application, patience and hard work. There is no hurry, nothing remains obscure, for every flaw, there is a whole lot of time to keep hammering the weak links until the wheels come off. You have to earn every run, every session, every fifty, every hundred, every wicket, and every catch. But, when you achieve it, after long hours of grinding, the ebbs and flows of the game, the roller-coaster journey, it's truly worth it.
After a one-sided ODI series which was dominated by Australia and T20Is where Indians had their way, the Test series finally brought back equilibrium to the contest between the two epic rivals. For the purists, the wait was worth the watch as the first day of the much-hyped and anticipated Test didn't disappoint and kept the fans glued to their seats with high quality and intense cricket.
For India, challenges and questions were aplenty, especially after the New Zealand whitewash. It highlighted that as good as the Australia series win in 2018/19 was, batting remained far from convincing with many vulnerabilities. Now, to start off with a pink-ball Test which has the reputation of moving a lot more than the red-ball against one of the pioneers of the day-night Tests - Australia, in their backyard, in front of their crowd, was a task cut out.
Indian batting was completely blown away in New Zealand, on the same lines as South Africa and England in recent years. It was remarkably shambolic as none of the batsmen averaged more than 25.5 in the series and it was evident that they had lost the battle in their head before even turning up on the 22 yards. But, today it was completely contrasting India which was batting in the middle today, after the early loss of Prithvi Shaw. And an Indian batting, which had clear plans to counter challenges thrown at them with the right amount preparation that was there to see. This was a batting unit, which breathed confidence as in the 2018/19 side that had beaten Australian than ones getting bruised black and blue in New Zealand, England or South Africa.
The Adelaide pitch was a thing of beauty and there was help for bowlers, be it pacers or spinners. Moreover, Australia knew how to play their cards well with pink-ball given they have played seven day-night Tests with an impeccable 100% winning record. But the way India went about their batting be it in terms of technique, application, patience, confidence, it was one of their better efforts in some time. It was purely textbook Test cricket batting with no flashy shots and intent as Kohli keeps talking about. If not for a late day collapse propelled by Kohli’s run-out, India might well have finished strongly after having the measure of the conditions.
Australians tried hard to play with the footwork of Agarwal and Pujara in the beginning. The effort was to keep planting seeds of doubt in their head. It's not easy to commit to playing on the front foot when bowlers like Starc and Hazlewood keep batsmen guessing about their lengths, which they can pull back and surprise batsmen with any time. James Pattinson had done the same with Pujara in the warm-up game. But, Agarwal and Pujara were ready to bat time, lunge forward with confidence unlike Shaw, and kept leaving the ball with utmost patience and care on the fifth stump line.
There are some who might question the worth of Agarwal's 17 and Pujara's 43? Well, for starters having Kohli out in 19th over is far better than in the first 10. Pujara's knock was also important as it helped wear down Aussie bowlers. As per Cricviz, when Australia's expected wicket total was 5.2 wickets, India had lost only a couple. With the challenge of batting in the twilight, it was imperative not to expose lower-middle-order early with no Pant and Jadeja at seven and eighth position, which was the theme of Pujara's innings.
Spinners averaged 49.83 in Adelaide day-night Tests in the lead up the game but in Lyon, Australia had a world-class spinner averaging 23.44. Exposing lower-middle-order was never an option, that too against the Aussie offie, who was getting turn and bounce off the deck. Also, Virat Kohli didn't get lured into driving early even if it meant he had the highest dot ball percentage he ever had in Australia with a minimum of 100 balls which was the case today.
All this ensured that India went into the twilight phase in a decent position, with as many as 43 leaves on Day 1, which is just his second-best from Trent Bridge in 2018. Just not that, Kohli ensured that the Australian bowlers did not endure false shots off his willow, with just 10.5% percentage of false shots, which is way less than the 17% that is usually endured in the country under the lights.
Ajinkya Rahane, who has had his share of problems against spinners also rose up to the occasion. He batted aggressively against Lyon, timed the ball well against pacers, and had softer hands than getting out softly like in New Zealand, after India for the most part of the day curbed their aggression too far against the off-spinner, who seemingly started pressing his case on just the first day.
India did finish on 233 for 6 from 188 for 3, handing over the advantage to Australia. But if the current 27 run-stand between Saha and Ashwin, both of whom are handy with the bat, stretches and India end up around 270, it would be a good total with the pink-ball unlike red-ball and twilight factor and not forget the fact that Australia bats last on a wicket that already has turn and bounce. Rahane, Pujara and Mayank should have converted their starts while Vihari needed to show better foot movement than he did to get out. But all in all, India showcased that they have the right template and application to fight a disciplined and experienced Aussie bowling under lights.
This was an important day for India in the context of the Test with the inexperience they had, and the fear of the unknown that it brings with itself. India might not have done spectacularly well with the advantage they got but shown that they have the puzzles to solve the pink-ball mystery and if they fine-tune a few things here and there, the ghosts of New Zealand will wear off quickly from the public memory and will leave a long-lasting impression on the critics.