Australia struggled through another first innings on an unhelpful pitch today as India marched to 5-311 on day one of their mission to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Yet amid the worries of a match that may have already slipped out of their grasp, there was longer term hope for Australian cricket generally and spin bowling in particular, in the shape of an exuberant and persevering debutant – Jason Krejza.
Left out of the Test team in India until the last possible opportunity, Krejza bowled his heart out against the world’s finest players of spin and more than held his own.
Bald figures of 28-1-138-3 on the first day of the fourth Test scarcely do him justice.
India’s centurion Sachin Tendulkar (109) was twice dropped in the deep, at 85 and 96, after trying and failing to get to the pitch of hard spun Krejza off breaks.
Early in the day Virender Sehwag (66) tried to crash Krejza out of the reckoning, but the bowler’s response was to claim the wickets of he and Rahul Dravid, both to deliveries that bounced and turned.
By the close the 25-year-old adopted Tasmanian looked easily the tourists’ most dangerous operator on a bare and drying pitch.
Australia must win to earn a 1-1 share of the series.
They made a poor start at the brand new but near-deserted Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium, losing the toss for the third match in a row.
Sehwag was at his punishing best in an opening stand of 98 with unhurried debutant Murali Vijay (33) until Shane Watson’s intervention.
After the repelling of the new ball, Watson (1-35) bent his back to extract some life from the surface, having Vijay caught behind when the batsman fenced at a pacy lifter.
Krejza was initially expensive, but is in the side as a wicket-taker, and he experienced the unconfined joy of his first in Tests the over after Vijay’s exit.
Indian No. 3 Rahul Dravid is out of form, and his first ball from Krejza bounced and turned, striking the batsman’s glove and lobbing gently to Simon Katich at short leg to send “The Wall” on his way for a duck.
Greater riches were to follow.
Five minutes before lunch Sehwag leaned back to late cut but more spin and bounce cramped him into an effort that succeeded only in dragging the ball onto the stumps.
Tendulkar and VVS Laxman (64) went on to show how few gremlins were in the pitch by scoring briskly without much apparent risk, and their techniques were tight enough to ward off Krejza’s occasionally sharp turn and Watson’s wholehearted bounce.
Their union spanned the afternoon session and tallied 146 all up, before Krejza broke through again.
He undid Laxman with another bouncing off break, causing him to squeeze an edge through to Brad Haddin.
Though Tendulkar’s despairing efforts to crack Krejza over the top should twice have brought his downfall, Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee dropping the catches, his 40th Test century was deserved reward for a series of superior batting.
Tendulkar was eventually out to the second new ball when Johnson (1-54) straightened one into him.
India earlier backed down from their loud protest against the suspension of opener Gautam Gambhir by leaving him out for Tamil Nadu batsman Vijay, 24.