When I returned to my apartment in the evening today, the last update I had had of 3rd day's play was that India were 196/6 at tea in reply to Australia's first innings score of 433. Imagine my joy now at learning from the evening's highlights package that not only had Indians avoided follow on (something that Australia would never enforce till Laxman and Dravid are dead and burnt) but had gone two better - first by crossing the 300 mark to come very close to reducing the Aussies' lead to two digits and second by managing to keep 2 wickets intact at close of day's play. Bhajji & Zaheer had ensured that the Indian cricket supporters' day ended far better than it started.
In between the breaks I had hopped channels and seen barely enough of a particular news channel which suggested, through repetitive replay of 4 or 5 select deliveries where ball was seen shooting or rearing, that the pitch had terribly irregular bounce early on and this made life difficult for the Indian top order during the 1st session.
However I saw no dismissals in those 'wretched' deliveries. Naturally i was more interested in seeing the next part of the highlights which showed how wickets had fallen. Irrespective of the pitch, you can digest dismissals at low scores if those dismissals were earned by good balls. Here is a synopsis of the 8 Indian dismissals today:
Gambhir: playing across the line to a fast bowler with mastery over swing.
Sehwag: Brooming a wide ball to 1st slip due to lack of control (playing too far away)
Dravid: lbw to a inswinger
Sachin: committed to the pace of a fast bowler who saw that and sent down a slower one to get him caught at covers
Laxman: A terrible waft outside off which could only deserved the result it had.
Ganguly: lbw to indecisive footwork to incoming swing bowling.
Dhoni: Terrible shot (or non-shot) played in Test even by his standards, worse than the stroke he played at Perth '08 in the 2nd innings (at least the team was setting a target then, not looking at 433 with 6 down at 196) - bowled with 3 stumps on view and feet rooted on ground to a slow left arm turning delivery from Michael Clarke
Bhajji: perished to the shotmaking that fetched him 54 good runs.
About the only 2 deliveries where the bowler could take a certain amount of credit in claiming the wicket were those of Dravid and Ganguly (the batsmen took the rest of the credit, not the pitch). Sehwag and Bhajji are exempt from terms like "rash stroke making". They live by the sword, and have shown enough for us to accept that they will die instantly without it.
That leaves four other batsmen. Sachin was dismissed by his premeditation, Gambhir by his indiscretion, Laxman by his lapse, Dhoni by his T20 stroke making intuitions. No great balls, no horrid bounces - plain batting errors. 4 out of 8 is 50%. The ratio of batsmen dismissing themselves does not befit a team that pretends to challenge Australia. This ratio for India will surely go down in the coming Tests as the batsmen will rise. Point to note: Australia, not India, are visiting but they have a lesser percentage of batting errors in the first Test (which, make no mistake, is as tough for them as it was for the Indians when we returned two sub-200 innings in our first Test there last year).
But then it may be too late for Indian hopes - like it was last season. Most of these top batting guys in India are experienced enough to know that the difference between the #1 Australian side and the rest is very often the first Test of a series. The others take it as a warm up match while the Australian win it to ensure they are up in the series and can hence take all the initiatives steps thereafter that suits their style of cricket even more.
This is where the importance of an early big innings from a rival batsman of Australia cannot be emphasised enough. Sourav Ganguly's Brisbane innings in 2004 in the first Test of that series (amidst an early Indian batting collapse) immediately comes to mind. Ganguly's effort helped draw the first Test. In taking away some of the initiative from Australia, that innings paved the way for Dravid's & Laxman's epics in later matches.