Ashwin’s craft and cricketing nous fetches him six of the seven wickets to fall
Aggressive intent paid for the two principal protagonists of the day. Home boy Ravichandran Ashwin scalped six with flight, turn and an attacking outside-the-off-stump line. And Australian skipper Michael Clarke carved out a fluent, unbeaten 103 of footwork, timing and placement.
Yet, while Clarke found a valuable ally in debutant all-rounder Moises Henriques (68) — the sixth wicket duo added 151 vital runs in 42.2 overs to lead an Australian recovery from 153 for five — there was hardly any support for Ashwin.
With India unable to drive home the advantage, Australia ended day one of the first Airtel Test at a rather satisfying 316 for seven at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Friday.
On a track offering spin, the Aussie game-plan was clear — go for strokes and disrupt the rhythm of the Indian bowlers.
The 31-year-old Clarke held centre-stage for his 23rd Test hundred; this was also his sixth century against India. He had earlier elected to bat.
Clarke’s feet movement is among the finest in contemporary cricket. He either danced down or waited for the ball to turn and used the depth of the crease to the fullest extent. Crucially, he was decisive.
But then, he was also fortunate. Clarke was picked up at short-leg on 39 — replays revealed a big inside edge — off Ashwin but umpire Kumar Dharmasena negated a vociferous Indian appeal. This could turn out to be a massive moment in the contest.
This apart, Clarke crossed the 7,000-run mark in Tests.
He is someone who forces the spinners to change their length. He gives them the charge and, consequently, when they land a tad short, can pick runs with cuts.
Typically, when Mahendra Singh Dhoni brought the field in — it was the last over of the day and Clarke was on 99 — the Australian captain sashayed down to Ravindra Jadeja and lofted him over the infield for a boundary.
Henriques showed admirable temperament for a debutant. He defended stoutly, cut and drove hard and also pulled off a few delicate strokes behind square. He was eventually dismissed, missing a sweep off Ashwin.
Ashwin bowled with craft and nous. The off-spinner went back to his basics and found the right solutions to some vexing problems that had adversely impacted his bowling in recent times.
He relied on his off-spinner and got his stock ball to turn appreciably. This was a refreshing difference from a bowler who tried out far too many deliveries, including the carrom ball, in the past.
Ashwin bowled from wide of the crease to the right hander, which also meant he was backing his deliveries to spin.
Altering his line adeptly to the left-handers, Ashwin’s turn and bounce constantly brought the ’keeper and the lone slip into play.
It can be hard for a tall man to find the right arc in flight. To his credit, Ashwin managed to achieve a lovely dip in some of his deliveries.
For the variations, Ashwin altered his trajectory and changed the angles.
While he lured out Ed Cowan (29) with flight to have the opener stumped, he also trapped Matthew Wade (12) leg-before with a flatter delivery.
Another left-hander, Phillip Hughes (6), misread the extent of turn to drag one back to the stumps while attempting a cut.
Ashwin, though, might have been fortunate to win the leg-before decision against a free-stroking Shane Watson. The ball spun into the right-hander but Watson might have just been struck outside the line.
David Warner, who brought his powerful shoulders and wrists into play to cut, pull, loft and whip his way to an entertaining 59, succumbed to Ashwin’s change of pace to be nailed on the back-foot; the left-handed opener had led a charmed existence against Ashwin, being let off on 18 by Virender Sehwag at slip, and Dhoni missed a stumping when he was on 27.
Harbhajan, playing in his 100th Test, disappointed.
The off-spinner was faster through the air and failed to extract as much purchase as Ashwin did from the pitch.
He also provided width for the batsmen to launch into expansive strokes on the off-side.
Left-arm spinner Jadeja was steady and the pacemen’s role was limited.
It was intriguing why debutant swing bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar often pitched short, negating his strength in the process.
Earlier, India, in a debatable move, left out Pragyan Ojha. In his six home Tests this season, the left-arm spinner has picked 33 wickets.
Australia — 1st innings: E. Cowan st Dhoni b Ashwin 29 (45b, 4x4, 1x6), D. Warner lbw b Ashwin 59 (93b, 6x4), P. Hughes b Ashwin 6 (15b), S. Watson lbw b Ashwin 28 (60b, 3x4), M. Clarke (batting) 103 (169b, 11x4, 1x6), M. Wade lbw b Ashwin 12 (35b, 1x4), M. Henriques lbw b Ashwin 68 (132b, 5x4), M. Starc b Jadeja 3 (3b), P. Siddle (batting) 1 (18b), Extras (lb-7) 7; Total (for seven wkts. in 95 overs) 316.
Fall of wkts: 1-64 (Cowan), 2-72 (Hughes), 3-126 (Watson), 4-131 (Warner), 5-153 (Wade), 6-304 (Henriques), 7-307 (Starc).
India bowling: Bhuvneshwar 11-1-48-0, Ishant 11-2-46-0, Harbhajan 19-1-71-0, Ashwin 30-5-88-6, Jadeja 24-5-56-1.