Well before he graduated to more complex works in his private school days at Cranbrook, it would not surprise if Ed Cowan's favourite childhood fable was The Hare and the Tortoise.

As the debutant Test batsman proved with a meticulously crafted and dogged 68 for Australia at the MCG yesterday, sometimes slower is better in the opener's race.

The 29-year-old was not the benificiary of a metaphorical napping rabbit on Boxing Day.

Rather, he had to fight for every inch to make his way, steady as she goes, into the late afternoon on the first day of the first Test against India. The pace - he took 177 balls and nearly five hours to accumulate his runs before a controversial departure - should not dilute the achievement.

The left-hander did exactly the job required of him, calling on powers of sheer determination, restraint and composure before a crowd of more than 70,000 to keep India's bowlers at bay.

''I was strangely not nervous. I can't explain why,'' Cowan said.

''I was a little anxious when we won the toss and batted but no more than I would have been if I was playing state cricket for Tasmania at Bellerive.

''I should have been a lot more nervous. I almost had to keep pinching myself to say, 'You should be more nervous here, more anxious', but at the end of the day I guess being relaxed really helped me through it.''

After a series of Australian opening partnership flops, Cowan's mere survival was worthy of celebration.

He left the ball repeatedly and without shame early in his innings, spending more than half an hour on two, as partner David Warner - the hare, in this instance - raced away to 37 before dozing off.

Stationed on 14 at lunch Cowan got a move along after the break in a 113-run stand with Ricky Ponting (62), and at one point, after two consecutive boundaries from the young tearaway Umesh Yadav, passed the former Australian captain's score.

Ponting quickly restored order and was first past 50 but Cowan would see him out, as he then did with captain Michael Clarke (31) and Michael Hussey (0).

''It really didn't feel like I was slow to get going. It really felt like a new-ball wicket so I guess that first hour I was looking just to leave well and play the ball late,'' he said.

''I'm not a big scoreboard watcher at the best of times so I didn't really notice that I wasn't scoring. It just felt like I was playing well and I was in the contest.''

His exit was ultimately mired in debate, with umpire Ian Gould giving him out caught behind to spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, before television-only technology indicated he had not hit the ball.

The disputed decision could well have denied Cowan a dream hundred on debut in the fading light last night - or this morning for that matter - but he can wake today knowing that he did his part. After the successful arrivals onto the Test scene of Shaun Marsh and Warner in the past four months, Cowan's display of patience and accountability was another positive note for the future.

''To me it felt like the start of a career, not as though it was something that I had earned and this was the end,'' Cowan said.

''Hopefully I can keep scoring runs to keep ensuring selection.''