The Australians have displayed a rather negative mind-set on this campaign. The fear of Indian off-spinners exploiting the rough created by left-arm pacemen appears to be haunting them.
In Chennai, one saw left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc bowling heaps of overs round the wicket to avoid creating the marks for Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh. And this appears to be the reason too why Mitchell Johnson, a bustling left-arm scalp-hunter, has not figured in the Test here.
Despite the Aussie concerns — the side’s batting is left-heavy — the Indian off-spinners have been striking telling blows…with or without the rough.
Ashwin nailed southpaws David Warner and Phillip Hughes — a few Australian batsmen also seem obsessed with the successful methods employed by Matthew Hayden in India in 2001 — on the sweep here on Monday as Michael Clarke’s men stared at another defeat.
Conceding a 266-run lead, Australia finished day three of the second Airtel Test here on an uneasy 74 for two at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium.
Purchase for spinners
Earlier, India was bowled out for 504, with debutant off-spinner Glenn Maxwell and left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty sharing seven wickets between them. There is purchase for the spinners on this track but the bowlers need to hit the right areas.
The Indian innings essentially revolved around a massive 370-run association — India’s highest second-wicket partnership against any country — between Murali Vijay (167) and Cheteshwar Pujara (204). Then, the home batsmen fell in a heap.
When the Aussies batted again, Bhuvneshwar Kumar was luckless. Virat Kohli put down Warner (on 13) at gully. And Ed Cowan (on zero) was grassed by ‘keeper Dhoni — it was a difficult chance — off an inside edge.
Warner began brightly against Ashwin, operating with the new ball, but fell into a trap. The Indian ploy worked.
Switching to over the wicket against the southpaw, Ashwin’s motive was clear. He would try to prise out Warner on the sweep.
The sweep shot can disrupt a spinner’s line but the batsman has to pick the length capably. This is precisely what Hayden managed in 2001. Warner’s ball-selection for the stroke here was ordinary and Ashwin celebrated.
And Hughes fell when Ashwin, cleverly, flighted one on the leg-stump. He went for the sweep but saw the ball striking the timber off his gloves.
In the morning, Vijay and Pujara continued to build. The right-handed Vijay timed Siddle past between point and cover. Soon Maxwell was delightfully off-driven. These were strokes of timing and balance.
Openers are a precious commodity in India and Vijay has built a platform for himself.
Pujara, battling a hamstring strain, once again displayed his innings building attributes. He stroked with fluidity too.
The right-hander cut both Doherty and Maxwell for boundaries and went past the 1000-run mark in Tests (in his 18th innings). And it was a triumphant moment for Pujara when he whipped Maxwell past the ropes. He had reached his second Test double hundred.
This was also a day when the Aussie bowlers had their share of success. Maxwell got one to turn and bounce to have Vijay taken at backward short-leg. And James Pattinson took out Pujara on the hook.
There was disappointment for an expectant crowd when maestro Sachin Tendulkar edged one down-the-leg-side off Pattinson. There is always an element of bad luck associated with such dismissals.
Dhoni struck some powerful blows during his 43-ball 44 before he miscued a drive off Maxwell. Virat Kohli (32) hung on but was well held at leg-slip by Cowan off Maxwell.
The off-spinner himself took a brilliant catch when Ravindra Jadeja struck one back hard. Debutant Maxwell was expensive but did manage to vary his pace and extract some turn for his four wickets. His left-arm spinning partner got into the act too.
Doherty’s action, when closely observed, is a rather unusual one. His bowling arm faces fine-leg as he releases the ball. Doherty, thus, delivers at an angle.
It explains why there is more side spin on the ball than top-spin.
This also means there is less bounce for Doherty. Somebody like Monty Panesar, vastly superior to Doherty, bowled with a high-arm action, his bowling hand facing the batsman. There was both turn and bounce for him.
Doherty’s action makes it hard for him to bowl an off-stump line unless he uses the crease. For most part, he was firing the ball down leg and middle.
Yet, given the limitations of the Australian spin attack the idea of playing Doherty was right. India’s top-six is right-handed and he did hold up one end with some tight bowling.
Australia — 1st innings: 237 for nine decl.
India — 1st innings: M. Vijay c Cowan b Maxwell 167 (361b, 23x4, 2x6), V. Sehwag c Wade b Siddle 6 (19b, 1x4), C. Pujara c Doherty b Pattinson 204 (341b, 30x4, 1x6), S. Tendulkar c Wade b Pattinson 7 (15b, 1x4), V. Kohli c Cowan b Maxwell 34 (92b, 3x4), M.S. Dhoni c Doherty b Maxwell 44 (43b, 8x4), R. Jadeja c & b Maxwell 10 (13b, 1x4, 1x6), R. Ashwin c Hughes b Doherty 1 (5b), Harbhajan c Maxwell b Doherty 0 (6b), Bhuvneshwar st Wade b Doherty 10 (18b, 2x4), Ishant (not out) 2 (12b); Extras (b-1, lb-13, w-4): 18; Total (in 154.1 overs): 503.
Fall of wickets: 1-17 (Sehwag), 2-387 (Vijay), 3-393 (Pujara), 4-404 (Tendulkar), 5-460 (Dhoni), 6-484 (Jadeja), 7-485 (Ashwin), 8-489 (Harbhajan), 9-491 (Kohli).
Australia bowling: Pattinson 29-11-80-2, Siddle 31-6-92-1, Henriques 21-7-45-0, Doherty 46.1-15-131-3, Maxwell 26-2-127-4, Warner 1-0-14-0.
Australia — 2nd innings: Ed. Cowan (batting) 26 (100b, 4x4), D. Warner b Ashwin 26 (56b, 3x4, 1x6), P. Hughes b Ashwin 0 (9b), S. Watson (batting) 9 (27b, 1x6); Extras (b-7, lb-6): 13; Total (for two wickets in 32 overs): 74.
Fall of wickets: 1-56 (Warner), 2-56 (Hughes).
India bowling: Bhuvneshwar 6-4-7-0, Ashwin 15-6-42-2, Harbhajan 8-5-10-0, Jadeja 3-2-2-0.