The first day of the series-deciding fourth Test between India and Australia in Ahmedabad was set to have it all – record crowd, explosive pitch and fast-paced action. However, Thursday turned into a slow procession as the Aussies battled their way to 255-4.
A crowd of more than 100,000 was expected to attend the first day with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese scheduled to meet players and greet fans.
However, the actual attendance fell short of the six-figure mark, with estimates putting it at a still impressive 50-60,000, as the premiers of both countries attended a function before the start of play.
The match was a slow burn in the intense heat as Australia's batsmen scored at less than three runs an over and India's bowlers did not get much help from the surface. Their fast bowlers were completely exhausted by the time the second new ball was taken, highlighting the struggles both sides will face at the Narendra Modi Stadium.
Opener Usman Khawaja batted patiently amid the din as he completed a sublime century in the final over of the day, flicking pacer Mohammed Shami to square leg for a boundary.
“There was a lot of emotion in that innings,” Khawaja said. “It was a mental battle more than anything else. It has been a long journey to score runs in India. As an Australian you always want to score runs here. It’s a special feeling.”
Khawaja remained unbeaten on 104 with all-rounder Cameron Green providing good support, scoring 49 from just 64 balls.
Khawaja, and other Australian batsmen, played mostly off the back foot, trusting the pitch that provided little assistance – a welcome change after the treacherous surfaces seen in the first three games.
Travis Head started aggressively and made 32 in a 61-run opening partnership with Khawaja before India hit back with two wickets in the first session.
The left-handed Head took charge to hit a flurry of boundaries including three in one over from pace bowler Umesh Yadav. He survived a reprieve on seven when wicketkeeper Srikar Bharat dropped a simple catch off Yadav and the opener added 25 more before being dismissed by Ravichandran Ashwin.
Khawaja stood firm and attempted to build another partnership, but Shami bowled Marnus Labuschagne for three, while stand-in skipper Steve Smith was looking good on 38 before he lazily chopped on a Ravindra Jadeja delivery on to his stumps.
Shami accounted for Peter Handscomb, hitting the woodwork with a late movement, before Khawaja and Green counter-attacked with a half-century stand.
India need a win to clinch the series and secure their berth in the World Test Championship final, scheduled for June at The Oval in London. Australia have already made it to the showpiece event.