Smith, Clarke punish insipid India

Centuries from the duo take Australia to 517 for seven on rain-hit second day

Smith, Clarke punish insipid India

Amidst numerous frustrating rain interruptions and intermittent play on a muggy, wet Wednesday, Australia wrested back the initiative with an impressive Steve Smith and less than half-fit Michael Clarke — returning to bat despite a dodgy back — notching up a hundred each, becoming the second and third centurions of the match after David Warner.

If it was Johannesburg late last year and Welllington early this year, it is now Adelaide. It’s the same old story of Indian bowlers failing to drive home the advantage, as Australia reached 517 for seven at close on the second day.

Having summoned the new ball on Tuesday evening, India had reduced Australia to 354 for six from 345 for three. One expected the Indian pacemen to make good use of the second ball, which was just about 10 overs old, but not unlike in the first session on the opening day they made a complete mess of it.

In fact, the ground staff spent more time in the middle than the players, bringing on and taking off covers with showers stopping the play as many as seven times. Going by popular logic, the frequent breaks in play should have affected the momentum of batsmen but instead it appeared to have disturbed bowlers’ rhythm with as many as three of them conceding well over 100 runs each. 

It was eventually bad light that put an end to Indians’ misery but by which time Australia had amassed a massive total. Clarke brought up his 28th career century (128, 245m, 162b, 18x4) while Smith continued his prolific run to remain unbeaten on 162 (231b, 21x4). Only 30.4 overs of play was possible on the second day but the hosts clobbered 163 runs off them, coasting at over five runs per over.

Few expected him to return, but Clarke strode out to bat in the morning along with Smith who was batting on 72. While Smith largely remained untroubled, Clarke’s will power shone through in the face of a sore back.

He had taken injections to relieve himself of pain but his grimacing after facing each delivery, his upright stance and his deliberate lack of urgency while running between wickets showed the right-hander was far from being comfortable. It helped Clarke that the Indian bowlers were willing to lend him a helping hand.

With Clarke’s movements severely curtailed, the obvious strategy should have been to cramp him for space and force him out of his ‘comfort’ zone. Shockingly, the Indian pacemen strayed all over to make his stay in the middle easy.

The bouncers were conspicuous by their absence while their lines, just in the hitting arc of Clarke, made little sense. That Clarke gathered 31 runs by employing cut before he reached his hundred spoke volumes about their lack of discipline and control.

While the 33-year-old thrived on bowlers’ largesse, Smith didn’t need any such favours, although he too was a recipient of many boundary balls. The 25-year-old from New South Wales scored his fifth career century -- his fourth in his last nine Tests and the highest so far. The knock was embellished with crisp drives through cover, flicks to midwicket and tennis and baseball-like strokes.

In tune with this Test, there were usual gestures like Smith going up to number 408 painted on the turf after reaching his century and Clarke looking heavenwards after bringing up Australia’s 408 with a single but the captain’s resolve to fight through immense physical barrier and emotional turmoil stood out on the day. And his effort received the acknowledgement it deserved.  
 
While nothing can be taken away from Australia’s batting on a good batting surface, India can’t escape the blame for the way they bowled and fielded.

Slip-catching had shown some improvement on the first day but on the second day the fielding went to pieces -- Wriddhiman Saha fluffed a stumping chance, Ishant Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara grassed catchable offers, Virat Kohli could have held on to a chance at slip had he shown a little more anticipation.

It’s possible that repeated stoppages of play had an impact on their concentration but to think that it’s only the second day of a long tour, the deflated body language wasn’t encouraging.
DH News Service       

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