Resolute India inch ahead

Double strikes by Ishant, Jadeja help hosts take control after Aussies bright start

Resolute India inch ahead

Australian batsmen, it appeared, had done their ‘home work’ properly this time. But two double strikes, first from Ravindra Jadeja (3/56) and then from Ishant Sharma (2/41), left the tourists on a familiar terrain.

The change in weather – bright and humid as against the cloudy and chilly conditions on Thursday – also saw a distinct shift in Australia’s approach. Confused and diffident for most part of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the visitors finally showed attitude and aptitude in good measure to provide their side the best start of the tour.

The good work, however, was undone in the middle and final session as Australia, opting to bat first, ended Friday’s day two on 273/7 in 104 overs, a poor finish by any standard but more so given their 139-run partnership by the opening pair -- a fortuitous Ed Cowan (86) and David Warner (71). Steven Smith (58 batting) was holding fort for the visitors along with Mitchell Starc (20 batting).

Cowan, who was the beneficiary of Virat Kohli’s largesse at slip on at least two occasions, and Warner warded off both pace and spin threats quite effectively though there were a few edgy moments. There was some bounce and an occasional hint of movement for pacers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant and immediate turn for the spinners.

But a combination of luck and a lot more pluck saw Australia inch to 109 for no loss in a two-and-half-hour first session. Upon resumption, Warner was the first to go when the southpaw saw a Jadeja delivery climb up off his bat and pad for MS Dhoni to complete a simple catch in front of the batsman.

Having promoted himself to number three, skipper Michael Clarke showed a rare error in judgement, stepping out to defend the first delivery he faced but only to see the ball spin across him for Dhoni effect an easy stumping. This is fourth time the left-arm spinner has dismissed the Aussie captain in the last five innings.

The two successive dismissals put Australia on the back foot and Phil Hughes’ arrival to the crease may not have inspired any confidence in the visiting camp. The walking wicket that he has become, the left-hander spent over half an hour and faced 31 balls before handing his wicket to Ojha for a 31-ball two, once again failing to negotiate a ball drifting down the leg. Hughes’ ill-at-ease stint in the middle yielded only 12 runs in 11.3 overs for the third wicket with Cowan as Australia lost the momentum.

Smith, included in the side as a specialist batsman, did no harm to his cause by rattling a confident half-century to hold Australia from completely falling apart. His 47-run association for the fourth wicket seemed to be getting his team back on track but R Ashwin struck to end Cowan’s stay with a classical off-spinning delivery which turned and took the edge as the batsman tried to put it down. Kohli finally atoned for his mistakes by pouching the straight-forward chance.   

Ashwin probably bowled a lot better than the other two spinners –Pragyan Ojha, a surprise replacement for Harbhajan Singh, and Jadeja – but his figures (1/64) for the day won’t do much justice to his efforts. Not much went in favour of Ishant either for better part of the day. Bowling as well as he has ever, the paceman was nippy and had the batsmen thinking, getting the odd ball to jump and cut back sharply.

Despite three probing spells he had nothing to show in the wickets’ column but with a hint of reverse swing, Dhoni, who didn’t opt for the new ball, backed the lanky pacer to do some damage. Reintroduced in the 92nd over, Ishant struck gold with two wickets in three balls in his second over after return. There was an element of luck in the dismissal of Brad Haddin, who dragged a widish delivery on to his stumps, but his ball to scalp Moises Henriques was a ripper as it swung into the right-hander sharply before crashing into the stumps off his pads.

Jadeja continued to prove his detractors wrong by providing crucial breakthroughs. After the twin scalps of Warner and Clarke, he accounted for Peter Siddle towards the end of day’s play to provide the home team a bright chance of making a match of it in the next three days.     

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