Lyon leads Aussie fightback

Cricket Fourth Test: Indian batsmen stutter after a promising start to finish day two on 248/6

Lyon leads Aussie fightback
If India had seized the opening day, Australia returned with sharpened claws. What rolled out on Sunday was an intense battle between the bat and ball in a manner true to the classical format of the game.

Australian quicks Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood exploited the bounce and pace from the surface before offie Nathan Lyon (4/67), resting on his backspin method, put the brakes in the final session to stifle India’s flow of runs. It was a brilliant performance by the Australian bowlers and throughout the day edges flew thick and wide, assisted by the widening cracks.

Against Australia’s first innings total of 300, India could muster 248/6 in 91 overs. Ravindra Jadeja (16 n.o.) and Wriddhiman Saha (10 n.o.) held the reins at stumps with India, losing wickets at crucial junctures, trailing by 52 runs.

In the nippy morning session, Cummins and Hazlewood bowled fiery spells to keep the India openers, Murali Vijay and KL Rahul (60), in a bind. The two tested the Indians with their aggressive spells, sending down a barrage of short balls. Cummins, especially bowled threateningly in the morning, and created chances with the new ball.

By the 11th over, Vijay’s concentration had snapped, and he nicked Hazlewood to give a routine catch to wicketkeeper Mathew Wade. Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara (57), during their 87-run second-wicket partnership, serenely absorbed the pressure of the opening session, although the Karnataka opener was lucky to be put down by Matt Renshaw at first slip off Cummins when on 10.

The first session brought a mere 64 runs for India. Australia, on Saturday, had scored 131. Rahul, who was off to another fine start, scored briskly after lunch. His innings was constructed off astute placements and ability to pick lengths of seamers and spinners early. He slog-swept Steven O’Keefe for a six, and later sent him to the mid-wicket boundary to bring up his fifth fifty of the series. However, just when things had begun to perk up for India, Rahul erred.

He had an interesting tussle with Cummins, the two even had a short talk in the middle, the Indian hitting four boundaries off him. Cummins finally worked him out with a series of short balls with a packed off-side field. Rahul bit the bait, and went for the pull, but was beaten for pace. He could only get the toe end of his bat behind the ball. The edge soared to David Warner at mid-off. His departure couldn’t have been more ill-timed. It immediately scorched the run scoring, even as Pujara and captain Ajinkya Rahane bent their backs to rebuild the innings. Australian captain Steven Smith, too, mixed up his four bowlers cleverly to make run gathering hard for Indians.

Though Pujara, who reached his half-century, and Rahane, who was wobbly at the start, saw off the remaining second session, it produced no more than 89 runs. Worst awaited India, with Lyon ready with his trap on resumption. In the first over after tea, Pujara edged the off-spinner’s flighted delivery to short leg, and four overs later Karun Nair was caught off guard by his pace and bounce to be caught behind. Rahane, who had decided to step up the scoring, whipped Lyon for back to back boundaries, but perished soon after. He played back to a flatter delivery, the outside edge darting to slip, where Smith took a smart reflex catch. Four overs later, Lyon had packed the bags of Ravichandran Ashwin, trapping him plumb.

The Australians, fired up with the second new ball, were then left disappointed when Saha was dropped on 9 off Cummins, Renshaw again dropping a sitter at slip. India, without their prolific batsman and captain, Virat Kohli, now swim in choppy waters. The first session on Monday will hold the key.

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