The last-wicket pair of Henriques and Lyon takes Test into final day

While his flighted deliveries have dipped, R. Ashwin’s fortunes are on ascent. The off-spinner has been on target at Chepauk.

Ashwin’s five-wicket haul — he has scalped an impressive 12 in the match so far — guided India to the brink of a victory on the fourth day of the first Airtel Test at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium here on Monday.

Stung by Ashwin and the rest of the Indian spin pack — Ishant Sharma sent down just three overs late in the innings for the only contribution by pace — Australia was struggling at 232 for nine, just 40 ahead of India.

India had earlier made an imposing 572, gaining a 192-run lead over Australia. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni fell after making a game-changing and history-making 224.

The contest would not have stretched into the fifth day had Moises Henriques (75 batting) and Nathan Lyon (8 batting) not added an unbeaten 57 for the last wicket.

While the other Australian batsmen appeared and disappeared on a deteriorating surface that offered considerable assistance to the spinners, Henriques refused to wilt.

Calm and composed

Displaying admirable composure, the 26-year-old New South Welshman was sure-footed, worked the ball around adeptly and picked his moments to attack.

On his debut, Henriques batted like a veteran. Like most Australians, Henriques is excellent with the horizontal bat shots. He cut Ravindra Jadeja and pulled Ashwin. The all-rounder cleared the ground too. Harbhajan and Ashwin were lifted over long-on for sixes.

The Indians had almost sliced through the line-up before meeting resistance at the very end.

Earlier, Ashwin was the toast. There was turn and bounce for him from the surface and the tall bowler, once again, relied on his stock ball — the off-spinner.

The home boy attacked the batsmen and was up for a challenge. In an engaging duel, Shane Watson stepped down the track and gloriously off-drove him to the fence.

In Watson’s aggression, Ashwin saw an opportunity. The next delivery was a touch wider and teasingly flighted. Watson went forward once more but was done in by the change in angle and bounce and Virender Sehwag held the catch at slip.

Varying the trajectory

A well set Ed Cowan (32) — the left-hander opened the batting with Watson as Warner was down with an upset stomach — was trapped leg-before by a quicker delivery from Ashwin. The off-spinner varied his trajectory to force errors from the batsmen.

Ashwin and the fleet-footed Michael Clarke (31) were involved in a compelling face-off. Clarke, skipping down the track, eased Ashwin over long-on for the maximum. When Ashwin altered his length — Clarke’s tactics might have forced him to do so — he was swung past the ropes.

It was Ashwin who emerged smiling from this contest within a contest. Clarke attempted to cut the bowler against the spin but the delivery turned sharply into the right-hander and the Australian captain was adjudged leg-before.

Better show by Bhajji

Harbhajan Singh opened the bowling with Ashwin in an all off-spin combination and his display in the second innings was an improved one.

The experienced off-spinner altered his pace and was more consistent with his length. Harbhajan won a leg-before verdict against the left-handed Warner with a delivery that straightened from round the wicket.

Another left-hander, Matthew Wade, attempted to sweep Harbhajan from the off-stump and heard the sound of the timber. The delivery kept low too.

But the Jadeja delivery that consumed Phillip Hughes climbed sharply from a spot in the pitch to kiss the gloves. The left-armer kept the pressure on the batsmen.

Playing on a track with uneven bounce and turn called for judicious stroke-play. The Australians were either overly defensive or perished to rank bad shots. The Aussies needed to be decisive in their feet movement and intent.

In the morning, the gallant Dhoni fell just eight short of Andy Flower’s 232 — the highest individual score by a wicketkeeper batsman in Tests.

Dhoni attempted to hook James Pattinson but gloved it to ’keeper Wade. His thundering double hundred will be etched in the Chepauk crowd’s memory.

The Indian captain’s 140-run ninth-wicket partnership with the determined Bhuvneshwar Kumar (38) was a pivotal phase of the game. Here, the match slipped from Australia’s grasp and India moved into a dominant position.

Debutant Bhuvneshwar has a flourishing back-lift, the bat comes down from third man, but he did get behind the ball to dig out the yorkers.

For Australia, fast bowler Pattinson bowled with heart and speed for a five-wicket haul.

Scoreboard

Australia — 1st innings: 380.

India — 1st innings: M. Vijay b Pattinson 10 (15b, 2x4), V. Sehwag b Pattinson 2 (11b); C. Pujara b Pattinson 44 (74b, 6x4), S. Tendulkar b Lyon 81 (159b, 7x4), V. Kohli c Starc b Lyon 107 (206b, 15x4, 1x6), M. Dhoni c Wade b Pattinson 224 (265b, 24x4, 6x6), R. Jadeja b Pattinson 16 (45b, 3x4), R. Ashwin b Lyon 3 (6b), Harbhajan b Henriques 11 (31b, 1x6), Bhuvneshwar c Clarke b Siddle 38 (97b, 4x4), I. Sharma (not out) 4 (18b); Extras (b-14, lb-14, w-4): 32; Total (in 154.3 overs): 572.

Fall of wickets: 1-11 (Vijay), 2-12 (Sehwag), 3-105 (Pujara), 4-196 (Tendulkar), 5-324 (Kohli), 6-365 (Jadeja), 7-372 (Ashwin), 8-406 (Harbhajan), 9-546 (Dhoni).

Australia bowling: Starc 25-3-75-0, Pattinson 30-6-96-5, Siddle 24.3-5-66-1, Lyon 47-1-215-3, Henriques 17-4-48-1, Clarke 8-2-25-0, Warner 3-0-19-0.

Australia — 2nd innings: Ed. Cowan lbw b Ashwin 32 (97b, 3x4), S. Watson c Sehwag b Ashwin 17 (46b, 1x4, 1x6), D. Warner lbw b Harbhajan 23 (61b, 2x4), P. Hughes c Sehwag b Jadeja 0 (3b), M. Clarke lbw b Ashwin 31 (51b, 4x4, 1x6), M. Wade b Harbhajan 8 (22b, 1x4), M. Henriques (batting) 75 (124b, 6x4, 2x6), P. Siddle b Jadeja 2 (20b), J. Pattinson c Sehwag b Ashwin 11 (26b, 1x4), M. Starc c Tendulkar b Ashwin 8 (7b, 2x4), N. Lyon (batting) 8 (47b, 1x4); Extras (b-15, lb-2): 17; Total (for nine wkts. in 84 overs): 232.

Fall of wickets: 1-34 (Watson), 2-64 (Cowan), 3-65 (Hughes), 4-101 (Warner), 5-121 (Wade), 6-131 (Clarke), 7-137 (Siddle), 8-161 (Pattinson), 9-175 (Starc).

India bowling: Ashwin 28-4-90-5, Harbhajan 27-6-55-2, Jadeja 26-5-68-2, Ishant 3-1-2-0.