MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — India and Australia shared an undulating first day of the first test Monday after an impressive debut by Australia opener Ed Cowan was marred by a middle order collapse made worse by dubious umpiring decisions.
Cowan and former captain Ricky Ponting shared a century stand to put the hosts on top at the Melbourne Cricket Ground early, but India struck back with three wickets for just nine runs after tea to seize the initiative.
Brad Haddin and Peter Siddle then shared an unbeaten innings-steadying 63-run partnership to steer Australia to 277-6 at stumps.
The post-tea middle-order stumble was precipitated by India paceman Zaheer Khan (2-49), who bowled Australia captain Michael Clarke for 31 and had Mike Hussey controversially caught behind for a duck with the next ball.
Cowan, who top-scored with a watchful 68 from 177 balls, became the third wicket to fall in just 19 deliveries when caught behind off Ravichandran Ashwin as Australia slid from 205-3 to 214-6.
"It was a great day's cricket," Cowan said. "The bat had it's moments, the ball had its moments, it was a good cricket wicket.
"They bowled really well in patches and we batted really well in patches, and we've got our noses ahead."
When Cowan fell, India carried all the momentum and it looked like Australia was in the midst of another of the giant batting collapses that had plagued the team in recent series.
However Haddin (21 not out) and Siddle (34 not out) put on a disciplined performance to put the game back on an even keel, having seen off the second new ball.
Hussey, struggling for runs of late and with his place in the team under threat, walked disgustedly from the field after being given out by umpire Marias Erasmus. Television replays indicated the ball hit Hussey's shoulder, but Australia could not challenge the decision under the Umpire Decision Reviews System because it is not being used in this series after the Indian cricket board raised concerns over its accuracy.
There was also a degree of doubt at Cowan's dismissal, while India suffered itself for its dogmatism over DRS, as Haddin was given not out in an lbw decision that was tough on the tourists.
"I've been a consumer of test cricket for so long and this is day one on the job for me, but as someone who loves their cricket and watches a lot of cricket, I just don't understand why it can't be handed down by the ICC for (the review system) to be uniform in all games," Cowan said.
Cowan combined for a 113-run stand with Ponting (62) after lunch, putting Australia temporarily in control after the loss of David Warner and Shaun Marsh to Umesh Yadav (3-96) in the morning session.
The 37-year-old Ponting, a veteran of 158 tests, has weathered persistent calls for his retirement this year and was selected for the Boxing Day test despite managing scores of just 5 and 16 in his previous match against New Zealand.
He answered the doubters with his 58th test half-century, prompting a standing ovation from 70,000-plus fans.
Ponting became Yadav's third victim when he was caught in slips by V.V.S. Laxman for 62 shortly before tea.
Yadav, playing in just his third test, said it was a great moment for him to be bowling to Ponting, but said every wicket was special.
"I just wanted to do the best for my country," he said.
Yadav took the first three wickets, having removed Warner and Marsh before the Cowan-Ponting partnership.
Warner, who carried his bat for an unbeaten 123 in just his second test earlier this month against New Zealand, smashed 37 off 49 deliveries before being caught by wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni off the first ball after a brief rain delay when attempting to hook Yadav.
Marsh faced just six balls before being caught for a duck by Virat Kohli at gully, celebrated by a sizable and vocal crowd of Indian supporters.
Cowan started his first test in cautious fashion, in contrast to Warner's dashing approach after Clarke won the toss and elected to bat on a green MCG wicket.
"As an opening batsman it's my job to try and set the game up," Cowan said. "I should have been a lot more nervous, but at the end of the day being relaxed really helped me through it."
Melbourne was battered by storms and torrential rain Sunday night, but play began on time Monday despite the damp conditions and heavy skies. The players left the field briefly due to a shower midway through the first session but returned after just a few minutes, and the start of the second session was delayed by 40 minutes due to drizzle.