The Sydney Test has begun dreadfully for India. After the ignominy of the Melbourne defeat, many had predicted that MS Dhoni's men would bounce back in the second Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Alas, their predictions were nowhere close to the mark.
Electing to bat on a pitch favourable to batsmen, the tourists were torn asunder by some top-class fast bowling by the Australians. Even a valiant fifty by Dhoni was not enough as India failed to reach the 200-run mark. James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus shared all the wickets between them. That's a profound piece of information, and tells a great deal about their dominance.
For the first time since 1999 India look clueless Down Under. The much-improved show in 2004 and 2008 was down to the fact that the openers took the shine off the ball. In the ongoing series, it's been openers the culprits.
Gautam Gambhir did not look half the player we know he is. Pattinson, playing only his fourth Test, sent him back for a duck as Michael Clarke took a waist-high catch in the slips. Rahul Dravid looked very unconvincing during his brief innings of 5 before Siddle had him caught at short-leg. Virender Sehwag played some good shots but one could sense something amiss in his style of play. He looked tethered. It was not long before he perished for 30, Pattinson having orchestrated his downfall.
VVS Laxman has had tremendous success against the Aussies in the past, but for some reason he has looked more of a struggler in this series. It's difficult to believe that he is the same Laxman who put the Aussies to the sword on countless occasions in the last decade. Pattinson buried the Very Very Special player with an outswinger as Shaun Marsh took a comfortable catch at third slip.
Sachin Tendulkar, during his innings of 41, looked very good. But in cricket, you need a lot of luck besides skills. As he played onto his stumps off Pattinson, the spectators breathed a sigh of despair. Another day gone by with the historic ton not coming to pass!
Virat Kohli has a lot to learn. Test cricket is a different ball game. It's the straight bat that gets you runs in all formats but in Test matches it's sacrosanct that you play with a straight bat. Otherwise you are done for. He is only playing his fourth Test, so he should be excused for a fidgety 23.
The Indian tail wags once in a while, we all know. So there was little surprise when no significant contribution came off them. Dhoni did his best with 57 not out but his innings could not ameliorate a disorienting batting performance by the Indians - 191 all out was all they could eke out.
However, India were given a big lift when Zaheer Khan sent back David Warner, Marsh and Ed Cowan in quick time. But the hope tailed off soon after Ricky Ponting (44) and Clarke (47) put on an unbroken 79 for the fourth wicket to tilt the momentum back in Australia’s favour. The hosts closed the day on 116 for 3, just 76 runs away from overtaking the Indian total.
Things now heavily ride on the Indian bowlers. If they can bowl Australia out for under 250 on Wednesday, the match is on. They can do it, but the fear deep inside is that there is going to be one big partnership that would halt India's growth in the match. Just like the Ponting-Michael Hussey partnership in the second innings of the Melbourne Test that changed the course of the match.
Right now it's Australia in the driver's seat and the Indians face a tall order to turn it around.