Bhajji's pain, Ashwin's gain

Sidelights from the first Test between India and Australia at Chepauk.

Ojha’s ouster: From expecting to go in with three spinners to their leading exponent not making the eleven. India threw up a surprise by choosing to look over Pragyan Ojha for the Chennai Test. The 28-year-old was their best bowler against England last year and had done well the last time the Aussies toured India, in 2010. Skipper MS Dhoni obviously thought a left-arm spinner's job can just as well be performed by Ravindra Jadeja, especially against a line-up splitting at the seams with left-handers. Jadeja didn’t do badly on the opening day, at least he did way better than Harbhajan Singh who was hellbent on presenting a boundary ball every over.

Butter fingers: Virender Sehwag, lumbering at first slip, grassed Warner when the left-handed batsman had scored 18. Warner went on to complete a half-century. This was slightly less painful than what Sehwag had cost India when he dropped Alastair Cook at Mumbai last year. Later in that series, when India sought to level things in the last Test at Nagpur, the easygoing fielder dropped a low Kevin Pietersen chance in the second innings, and stood grinning as commentators took his case on air. A while later, Sehwag let another low chance go astray and the beneficiary – Jonathan Trott – plodded on to compile a century. Sehwag has recently been prescribed corrective glasses for persistent headaches and was fielding with glares when he fluffed Warner. A reluctance to crouch at slip and now dwindling eyesight: India's slip catching is not getting ay sharper.

Lousy landmark: It should have been an event to rejoice and it sure started that way. Harbhajan Singh led the team on to the field for his 100th Test after accepting a commemorative plaque from BCCI president N Srinivasan. That was where the fairytale ended. The off-spinner appeared to have left his purposeful ways back at the National Cricket Academy. He insisted on bowling around the good-length mark and allowed the Australian left-handers enough room to maneuver the ball around. When he did build the pressure by tossing it up, Harbhajan spoilt it all by gifting boundary balls in every over. MS Dhoni finally had to replace the Turbanator with Ravindra Jadeja, who proved to be a far more accurate foil to Ravichandran Ashwin’s wicket-taking spree at the other end.

The torrent continues: Michael Clarke had a monumental 2012. He topped the Test runs aggregate, scored two massive triple hundreds and provided a transitioning Australia with a dependable batsman and attacking captain. Clarke had scored a hundred on debut in Bangalore way back in 2004 as part of Steve Waugh’s team. On Friday, the 31-year-old crossed two major milestones against the same opposition, going past Don Bradman’s 6996 tally and crossing 7,000 Test runs. The Aussie skipper was lucky to survive when umpire Kumar Dharamsena adjudged him ‘not out’ to a clear-cut bat-and-pad to short leg. But he made the most of his luck to guide his team out of a hole with a hundred-run partnership with all-rounder Moises Henriques.

Captain's knocks: Ross taylor. Alastair Cook. And now Michael Clarke. India has of late brought out the best in visiting captains. Taylor was the leading scorer when the Black Caps toured earlier last year. Skipper Cook was instrumental in England recording their first series win on the sub-continent in almost 30 years. Clarke seems to be following suit. The Aussie stood firmly between India and the tail even as Ashwin threatened to run through the batting. Since moving to the helm, Clarke has been piling on the runs, but he's still behind Bradman and Cook in the list of most prolific captains. In charge, Bradman averages 101.51, followed by Cook (90.40), Clarke (71.32*), and Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara (69.60).

Dreary debut: What a debut for young Bhuvneshwar Kumar. On a pitch tailored to spin, the Meerut fast bowler would have been elated at making the eleven. But he was wrong if he expected his Test debut to be like his maiden ODI match. Against Pakistan in December at the same venue, Bhuvneshswar had clean bowled Mohammad Hafeez on his first ball. On Friday, he opened the bowling with a four-over spell and then made way for the spinners. Bhuvneshwar was reintroduced for short spells as a change of pace – just before lunch, immediately after tea – but failed to make an impact in conditions that had nothing for his ilk. His partner in crime – Ishant Sharma – was also tackled with ease by the Aussies. Bhuvneshwar finished his first hard day of Test cricket with rather unflattering figures but what would have been a great education in sub-continental cricket.

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