India stay ahead in the game

Cricket Second Test: Hazlewood, Smith lead Australian fightback; Yadav sparkles with three wickets

India stay ahead in the game

On a day when both teams jostled for control, India appeared to have put themselves slightly in front in the second Test of the four-match series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

After conceding honours on Wednesday’s opening day, Australia came back strongly to restrict India, overnight 311/4, to 408 all out by lunch with Josh Hazlewood claiming a five-for on his debut. Australia, in reply, were 221 for four with skipper Steven Smith holding fort on a confident 65 (88b, 6x4, 2x6). Mitchell Marsh, suffering from right hamstring, was giving him company at close of second day’s play here at the Gabba on Thursday.

Umesh Yadav, coming in place of Mohammad Shami, returned figures of 3/48 to justify his selection. Though he didn’t have much help from the pitch, R Ashwin looked effective and successfully planned Shane Watson’s departure.          
After several burnouts on the opening day, Australian bowlers remained largely untroubled with the conditions remaining less harsh on Thursday. The storm was brewing but it didn’t arrive until the day’s play was finished early due to bad light. Hazlewood, who had cramps all over his body, walked in along with Mitchell Starc, who too had struggled to cope with the heat at the Gabba, much to the relief of home supporters.

While Starc remained profligate, Hazlewood continued the good work of the opening day. The debutant produced the ball of the match to send overnight batsman Ajinkya Rahane (81, 132b, 8x4) back in only the third over of the day. The ball was full, pitched on the middle and off and then shaped away just enough to kiss the outer edge of the bat en route to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, who took six wickets to match Australia’s record for highest dismissals in an innings.

Rohit Sharma once again failed to replicate his home performances, throwing away another start. The right-hander now has gone nine innings without a half-century. Rohit’s fall linked Dhoni with Ashwin in the middle and the two added 57 runs for the seventh wicket to take India closer to the 400-run mark. Ashwin’s display with the bat -- much before he proved his value with the ball later in the day -- showed how big a blunder India committed by omitting him from the first Test.

The quick dismissals of Ashwin and Dhoni that gave Hazlewood a five-wicket haul hastened India’s end. Chastened for their inconsistent bowling on the opening day, the Australians, with the exception of Starc, bowled much better lines that forced the Indians to play rather than leave them alone. Hazlewood was the standout performer, becoming the third Australian bowler to claim a five-wicket haul on debut against India after Brett Lee and Jason Krejza.

After an improved performance with the ball, Australia began well with the bat, David Warner once again punishing the Indians for bowling round the wicket. The left-hander dominated the opening stand of 47 with Chris Rogers but miscued a short ball from Yadav to be caught by Ashwin.

Rogers (55, 79b, 10x4) and Watson kept the Indian attack at bay to raise 51 runs before Ashwin accounted for the latter. With the score 121 for two and the tea break moments away, Australia were seemingly ahead when Dhoni’s ploy to bowl Varun Aaron round the wicket with a leg-slip in place did the trick. Rogers tried to flick Aaron fine off his hips but only managed glove it to Dhoni.

Australia enjoyed another fruitful partnership, this time between Smith and Shaun Marsh. The pair added a brisk 87 to reverse the fortunes and when Rahane grassed a simple catch of Shaun off Aaron, the only question was how costly it was going to prove for India? The southpaw, however, didn’t last long as his hard slash off Yadav was pouched by a jumping Ashwin at slip.

Shaun’s wicket marginally altered the situation in favour of India but Smith was looking dangerous. The Australian skipper, who has already accumulated 275 runs in the series and is yet to be dismissed, was in total control of his innings. He was unperturbed by the pace of Yadav and Aaron and had more answers than the number of questions Ashwin posed to him.

For India to gain substantial lead, they will have to take out Smith early on Friday.

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