A quick-fire century from David Warner led Australia into a strong position on the opening day of the first Test against India in Adelaide, as they played their first match since the death of Phillip Hughes.
The home side finished on 354-6, but the day was marred after a recurring back injury forced captain Michael Clarke to retire hurt whilst batting on 60. Three wickets in the last five overs prevented Australia from taking total command, with the Indians finally rewarded for their efforts on what was an arduous pitch for the bowlers.
The day began with a 63-second applause for the life of Hughes – the score he was on when struck fatally by a bouncer – before the Adelaide Oval attempted to restore some normality to Australian cricket.
After winning the toss and electing to bat on a supreme batting deck, Warner immediately went on the attack. Crunching seven boundaries from his first 15 deliveries – all through the offside – Australia waltzed to 45-0 from the opening five overs, giving stand-in captain Virat Kohli an early headache. With the line outside off stump being slaughtered, Varun Aaron resorted to the first bouncer of the series, a snorter which was greeted with genuine claps from the stands.
With the new ball pairing of Mohammed Shami and Varun Aaron proving costly, Ishant Sharma was called upon to restore some control, which he did in his second over as an edge from Chris Rogers flew straight to Shikhar Dhawan at second slip.
A belligerent Warner continued to milk the attack at more than a run a ball, reaching his half-century from just 45 balls, but an under pressure Shane Watson was unable to settle, and a tame effort to run an Aaron ball behind point, brought his demise for just 14 as Dhawan snaffled another.
If there is one significant milestone for a batsman en route to three figures, for the foreseeable future Australia will have two. Upon reaching 63 with a controlled sweep, an emotional Warner looked to the heavens as rapturous cheers reverberated around the ground. Hughes was selected as a special 13th man for this Test match, one imagines he will be with his teammates long past their playing careers.
Only a paltry 24 overs were bowled by India before lunch, which saw Australia manage 113-2, and after the 40-minute interval Warner and Clarke pushed on, scoring with consummate ease as the pace bowlers remained expensive. Continuing to accumulate at almost five runs an over, it wasn’t long before Warner registered his fifth Test hundred of the 2014, reaching the landmark from just 106 deliveries, in an innings consisting of 14 fours.
It was when all appeared to be going swimmingly – Clarke’s 50 up and the century partnership raised – that the brightening mood at the Oval was dampened. An unassuming delivery that sailed down the legside would have been forgotten if it didn’t bring with it a twinge to Clarke’s back. As he sunk to the ground in evident discomfort. it soon became clear the captain would not be able to carry on. Forced to trudge off after a well made 60, one could only wonder just how long the chronic injury will sideline him for this time.
Clarke’s exit brought Steve Smith to the crease, who, along with Warner, calmly guided Australia to an imposing 238-2 by the time tea was called. Six overs beyond the interval, Warner’s knock finally came to an end as debutant Karn Sharma picked up his maiden Test wicket, but a devastating 145 from 163 balls, had put his team firmly on top.
The slow over rate over the first two sessions meant a mammoth 40 overs had to be bowled in the day’s third session, not a problem as it was a typically bright, clear, South Australian day. Mitchell Marsh joined Smith at the wicket, the latter rock solid in progressing past 50, and 63, on his way to an unbeaten 72 by the end of the day.
It looked like Marsh would be joining him in the pavilion with Australia three down and in a position of complete dominance, but his dismissal for 41 in the 85th over, sparked a mini collapse.
Night watchman Nathan Lyon was bowled for three, before Brad Haddin nicked off to wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha, as Shami picked up two late wickets, ensuring the Aussies finished the day six down – effectively seven with Clarke almost certain not to bat – for 354.
The trio of wickets at the end provided a twist in the tail in what was otherwise a poor day for India, and a fantastic one for their opponents. Concerns will swirl over Shami and Aaron who leaked over five runs an over combined, but they were redeemed by their three wickets at the end, which has giving their side a foothold in the contest.
If they can skittle the tail out early tomorrow morning, a brilliant pitch awaits their batsmen. Ishant bowled tightly, restricting the Australian batsmen well, while spinner Karan Sharma improved on a very nervous beginning.
After a day where no one was quite sure what would occur, as cricket looked to move on from what has been one of its darkest fortnights, once again we can talk about the sport we all love in a brighter context. A sport which today proved, we can all be very proud of indeed.