By Garfield Robinson
If there was anyone in the Australian team capable of disrupting India’s plans of suffocation by spin it was Michael Clarke. He plays spin with a freedom and a sure-footedness that is a joy to behold. Brian Lara dominated spin bowling more than almost any other batsman in his time, but not even he was as free on his feet as the Australian captain.
The right-hander from New South Wales was very fortunate to have survived a bat/pad catch when he was on 39. Umpire Dharmasena failed to see the involvement of the batsman’s glove and with no DRS (whose idea was that) to turn to, Clarke survived to carry on his batting masterclass.
Alastair Cook came to India last November and led from the front by scoring three hundreds and averaging over 80 in four tests. On the first day of the Border/Gavaskar series, Michael Clarke showed he could do that and more by the way he pushed back the Indian slow bowlers on a pitch turning from the first day. Cook patiently waited on the bad delivery, taking full toll when it came. He advanced down the pitch on occasion but mostly stayed back and scored from the short delivery. His Australian counterpart, on the other hand, never stayed rooted in one spot. He advanced often, but almost just as often he was back, deep in his crease, sometimes in defence, other times in attack.
This requires no little skill. Batsmen looking on could learn a lot, to be sure, but such play requires a nimbleness of foot and a decisiveness thatonly a few have the aptitude to execute and the confidence to attempt. Ed Cowan ran down the pitch on about three occasions, once planting Harbajhan Singh straight down the ground for six. But shortly afterwards he loped past a dipping delivery from RavichandranAshwin and was stumped.
At stumps, Clarke was unbeaten on 103, made off 169 balls with 11 fours and a six. He went to the wicket at 72/2 and wasted no time in imposing himself on proceedings. Employing his breathtaking mobility from the start, the difference between he and the other batsmen were stark. David Warner was lucky to get to 59 before he was struck in front playing back to a full delivery once too often.
Phillip Hughes, Shane Watson and Matthew Wade all fell while playing back, as Ashwin continually challenged the batsmen with flight, dip, turn and variation of pace. At the other end he had Ravindra Jadeja and Harbhajan Singh on duty. And while Jadeja, especially, was mostly steady, they were not as demanding as Ashwin.
India’s best bowler, by some distance, against the Englishmen was PragyanOjha, and it was surprising he wasn’t chosen here; a decision the selectors might have already regretted. Perhaps Harbajahn Singh was given the edge because of his previous successes against the Australians; or maybe it was the symbolismof the great off-spinner playing his 100th test; maybe it was just his capable batting.Whatever the reason, the decision to play him instead of Ojha is questionable. The off-spinner was not very impressive when he played in the second test against England at the Wankhede Stadium and did nothing since to suggest he warranted a place. He did nothing on this first day to suggest that place was well deserved.
Australia will resume on the second day at 316/7, having already achieved a score that should make them competitive the rest of the way. Their position was almost totally due to Clarke’s exquisite batting and the support he received from Moises Henriques. The debutant added 151 with Clarke, and though not as fleet-footed as his captain, showed admirable patience, and would have benefitted from the way Clarke was able to upset the bowlers’ plans.
Australia will now try to motor towards 400 and hope for some swing, both conventional and reverse, to put the hosts under pressure. The possibility is that they could go even beyond that if their captain is able to continue his brilliant dance recital.