Different venue. Same story. That is the conclusion that one can draw at the end of Day 1 of the second Test between India and Australia at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Saturday.
There were a couple of other differences between the events of the Pune Test and the first day of the second game in Bengaluru. India winning the toss was a major one, which should have given the hosts a big boost of confidence. The other was Nathan Lyon taking over the role of India's 'destroyer-in-chief' from Steve O'Keefe, dismantling their batting line-up with dream figures of 8/50. Not to mention a couple of personnel changes in the Indian team.
Having lost the right to make the best use of a Day 1 pitch at the MCA Stadium at the start of the series, India captain Virat Kohli managed to regain his luck with the coin after Australian counterpart Steve Smith called incorrectly, with no prizes being distributed for correctly guessing Kohli's decision. While the batting form of Abhinav Mukund, opening in place of the injured Murali Vijay in this match, remained clouded under doubt, there were a lot of expectations from KL Rahul as far as scoring the bulk of runs alongside the likes of Kohli was concerned. After all, he is playing his maiden Test at his home ground of the Chinnaswamy, and would have wanted to make the occasion special.
What he did not expect however, was the abject lack of support that he would be getting from his team-mates during the innings, barring a resurrecting second-wicket stand worth 61 between him and Cheteshwar Pujara. Rahul exhibited his diverse range of shots and played according to the situation — starting off on a aggressive note before anchoring the innings with steadfastness. It was almost as if he wanted to make up for the follies in the previous Test, in which he threw his wickets away early in the innings.
Rahul played with the flair that has made him a first-choice opener in the Test team. While the shot that ended his innings, 10 short of his fifth Test century can best be described as a tired one, he certainly will be the only member of the Indian top and middle-order that won't face rebuke from head coach Anil Kumble after the day's play.
With the pitch being described as one with a plenty of runs on offer both by pundits as well as both captains, one does wonder where exactly did things go wrong for the hosts. The pitch did start turning a lot more than normal towards the close of the first session, something that both Lyon and O'Keefe used to great avail once again. That however, would be of little help in justifying the shot selection of some of the Indian batsmen.
Skipper Kohli once again misjudged the line of a Lyon delivery, getting rapped on the front pad while expecting it to turn a little more and head down leg. For someone one his stature, who made nearly every other batsman out there look ordinary in a terrific run last year, three consecutive low scores will come as a massive blow that will take a serious innings to get over with.
Then there were the stumpings of Ajinkya Rahane and Karun Nair, both of whom did not add much value to their long-term quests of occupying the number five slot in the Indian Test team after getting deceived by extra turn outside off. The day also marked a sad return to international cricket after six years for Abhinav Mukund, who missed a yorker from Starc to get dismissed lbw for a duck.
Lastly, one of India's most prolific run-getters this home season in Cheteshwar Pujara turned out to be another disappointement, and it was his dismissal at the stroke of lunch that perhaps can be pinpointed as one of the factors that triggered another Indian collapse.
While it was Lyon's day out with the ball, eclipsing Lance Klusener's record for the best figures by an overseas bowler on Indian soil, it was O'Keefe's persistence with a nagging line that maintained the pressure on the Indian batsmen. That made the batsmen go after Lyon, and perish with one brain fade after another.
Pacer Mitchell Starc too cannot be denied his fair share of credit, unsettling the Indian batsmen with a barrage of short deliveries in short bursts of spells. While Josh Hazlewood looked a bit off-colour on the opening day, his performance was perhaps the only blip in what was a good outing for the Australian bowlers.
If the conditions seemed to have helped Lyon and Co then the Indian bowlers were hardly able to put it to good use as Australian openers David Warner and Matt Renshaw saw off the 16 overs remaining in the day's play. There was of course a dropped chance with Warner on 9, as Rahane let go of a chance in the slips to deny Ishant Sharma an early breakthrough. It remains to be seen how dearly Warner makes the Indians pay for that mistake on Sunday.
Australia have played like they were the hosts in the series so far, and the momentum that they had gained with the 333-run win in Pune seems to be showing quite clearly in this match. They look set to eclipse the Indian total with ease on the second day, as their current position would indicate. India though, will hope for their talismanic spin duo of Ashwin and Jadeja finally exhibiting the dominance that they displayed against New Zealand, England and Bangladesh. If India are to save this Test, and indeed the series, the second day will be a very crucial one for them.