Jadeja and Ishant help the home team claim the day’s honours
It was such an unfamiliar Mohali pitch. Dry and slow, in keeping with the Indian team management’s mantra for winning matches. There was, however, no change in the Australian approach, persevering only in patches. By the end of the day, the team was left in an introspection mode that has come to mark its cricket in this series, lacking in will and tenacity.
A sound start by Australia created visions of a sharp contest. But then, the Indian spinners did a few things with the ball and Australia stuttered, a familiar sight in this series.
If it managed to hang in, credit lay with Ed Cowan, David Warner and Steve Smith, who all came up with a half-century each. Cowan, in fact, missed a century.
On the second day, there was some intense, mostly bland cricket, hardly befitting the status of the competition. Cowan, Warner and Smith packed in some much-needed strength to Australia’s batting even as India managed to sustain pressure through two double strikes in the same over — by Ravindra Jadeja and Ishant Sharma — the latter returning flattering figures.
His first victim played on and the second one was bowled off his pads.
What if the spectators did not come in large number? It was a warm day. In any case the Australians had hardly inspired with their lacklustre show in the last two Tests. When Michael Clarke elected to bat, the onus was clearly on some of his men to be counted. Refreshing and controlled aggression from Warner and Cowan ensured the Indians had to earn their wickets.
Three quick wickets
An aggregate of 109 runs in the first session and 71 in the second reflected the Australian determination to counter the Indian spinners. But three quick wickets after lunch triggered a phase of uncertainty in the Australian camp before Cowan arrested the slide in the company of Smith. The contest gradually adopted a trend similar to the previous Tests. Once the ball began to turn, the Australians, tentative in the crease, suddenly looked very vulnerable.
The inconsistency that Australia displayed in terms of coming to grips with the Indian spinners was so pronounced. Cowan led a charmed life, being reprieved thrice at 35, 64 and 85, all in close in positions, but Smith was a delight.
Warner adapted, curbing his shots, picking the gaps well. Clarke, ironically, played poor cricket, stepping out to the first ball he faced after promoting himself to the number three slot, only to be consumed by Jadeja for the fourth time this series. It was a great buy at a throwaway price.
Clarke was stumped by yards as the ball curled past his bat. Jadeja was delighted and understandably too as he got wickets off successive balls. Warner was his first victim when the Australian fell to a bat-pad catch that Dhoni took in front of the batsman.
Clarke’s dismissal left Australia grieving and soon Phil Hughes joined his captain in the dressing room when he fell to a nudge.
Thrives on chances
Cowan thrived on the chances that were put down by Virat Kohli (twice at slip) and Cheteshwar Pujara (silly point). His 139-run opening stand with Warner was, sadly, wasted by the Australian middle-order with the exception of Smith. Warner batted with conviction.
His duel with R. Ashwin was competitive as both tested each other. Cowan applied the best and Warner came up with some delicious drives to lift the standard of the fare in the middle.
Smith, a busy man at the crease, produced a fine array of shots even as he compulsively left the safety of the crease to confront the spinners. Mitchell Starc chipped in to see Australia through.
The Indian spinners maintained their supremacy. Jadeja picked up three wickets even if not always looking threatening.
Ashwin did not relent and deserved better. Ojha, replacing Harbhajan Singh in the eleven, was inconsistent.
Bhuvneshwar made little impact on an unresponsive pitch but Ishant prospered with the old ball as India delayed the new ball option to exploit his skills at getting the reverse swing.
His exaggerated celebration at his success only highlighted his frustration, for, he came up with average stuff with the new ball.
Australia — 1st innings: Ed Cowan c Kohli b Ashwin 86 (238b, 8x4), D. Warner c Dhoni b Jadeja 71 (147b, 9x4), M. Clarke st. Dhoni b Jadeja 0 (1b), P. Hughes c Dhoni b Ojha 2 (31b), S. Smith (batting) 58 (137b, 7x4, 1x6), B. Haddin b Ishant 21 (36b, 2x4, 1x6), M. Henriques b Ishant 0 (2b), P. Siddle lbw b Jadeja 0 (14b), M. Starc (batting) 20 (21b, 3x4); Extras (b-4, nb-3, lb-8): 15; Total (for seven wkts. in 104 overs): 273.
Fall of wickets: 1-139 (Warner), 2-139 (Clarke), 3-151 (Hughes), 4-198 (Cowan), 5-244 (Haddin), 6-244 (Henriques), 7-251 (Siddle).
India bowling: Bhuvneshwar 7-0-38-0, Ishant 21-7-41-2, Ashwin 33-8-64-1, Ojha 21-4-62-1, Jadeja 22-6-56-3.