If first day’s performance is to be evaluated, it will stand as Australia : India = 50 : 50.
However, the reality is Australia : India = 60 : 40.
Especially, the way the Aussies recovered from the score 214 for 6 to reach 277 for 6 at stumps.
No praise is adequate to acknowledge and appreciate the partnership – Haddin and Siddle put together, while chips were really down for Australia thanks to two dubious decisions by the umpires that undid Hussey first and then Cowan, almost back to back.
From then, when it was expected that India would wrap up the Australian tail soon, the real twist in the tale took place.
And, honestly, it happened more for the Indian’s lack of idea in bowling and field placement than the Aussies’ determined display of batting.
With the course of play it became evident that Siddle had a great defensive technique and he was quite ready to come on the front-foot to negotiate deliveries. Either to play at them or leave.
On the other hand, Haddin was just reluctant to take any risk whatsoever and happy to nudge the ball here and there for singles, twos or threes followed by occasional hits over the rope.
So the situation was, the Aussies were keen to play for the time and had no urgency to dash for runs, where India needed to push things up with more vision and vigour so as to bowl out their opponent, as soon as possible.
But, frankly it didn’t occur, as it should’ve been.
Nevertheless, the things could be sorted out still in order to change the game, if the following points are pondered… rather with an open mind –
1. Asking Umesh Yadav to bowl at fierce pace targeting Siddle’s ribcage mostly, and time to time his toes, with five fielders on leg side. The fielders could ideally be placed at Fine Leg (somewhere in between short fine leg and deep fine leg); Backward short leg or Leg gully; Forward short leg (a bit square and pushed towards the leg umpire); Midwicket (somewhere in between original midwicket and deep midwicket) and Mid on (quite straight, much inside the ring to save quick singles). This ploy might not give Umesh Siddle’s wicket, but the batsman would definitely get softened up to fall pray to another Indian bowler, and this in the process could force Haddin to take some extra responsibilities to guard his partner by playing extra deliveries, bearing extra tension.
2. Keeping fielders for Haddin at Deep point or Deep cover, at Deep midwicket and at Deep mid on, while he played, in fact, not a single adventurous shot in his whole innings actually seemed pretty bizarre. When a team had two new batsmen at the crease and was tottering under some kind of pressure giving away such easy singles to them through wide spread field settings, made no sense to be precise. At that point of time, Haddin should’ve been made to struggle for every run and should’ve been compelled to go for big shots over the in-field.
3. Ishant should be asked to bowl only at good-length or just short of good-length but not away from off stump or short-pitch. Because given the pace, bounce and carry, as provided by the pitch, Ishant’s bouncers are likely to go over a batsman’s head, most of the time. But, Ishant’s in-coming deliveries which just hold their lines after pitching, or go away slightly outside towards off stump, are simply nightmares for any batsman. So, Ishant has to bowl those balls, continuously, as he turns into a wicket taking bowler only when he pitches the ball up.
4. In a vast ground like the MCG, run-choking is just a concept. In reality, there remain plenty of gaps on the filed, exploiting which a batsman can jolly well pile up runs just by taking singles. To prove that point, Australia made 277 from 89 overs with an average of 3.11 per over that can’t be said poor run rate in a test cricket despite Dhoni’s wide-spread field placement. And Dhoni needs not to forget one thing, in such a climate which is offering no such humidity, getting a batsman out by tiring him is not going to work as it does often in India. Therefore, as a captain he needs to think more and better than just going with the flow and hoping that something will happen soon.
To conclude, if Australia crosses 350, it’s likely that India will either lose the test or maximum salvage a draw at the MCG. Because, to win a test match overseas (or a series for that matter), a team needs to play magical cricket based on strategy, tactics and game plan beyond just skills, luck and miracle. And that's why; a captain on field needs to think sound and innovative, and that too, impromptu, applying nothing but sheer commonsense.