India hit back, Australia 277/6 at stumps

India hit back, Australia 277/6 at stumps

India's Umesh Yadav, right, celebrates taking the wicket of Australia's Usman Khawaja during the second cricket test in Perth, Australia, Friday, Dec. 14, 2018. AP/PTI

Deceived by the green top and done in by their pacers’ profligacy in the first session, India failed to press home the advantage but they didn’t allow things to spiral out of control either to stay on an even keel with Australia after the opening day of the second Test.

Attended by a crowd of over 20,000 but which looked a lot smaller in a 60,000-capacity Optus Stadium, Friday’s opening day saw a gripping battle between bat and ball on a pitch that kept the fast bowlers interested without ever really making the batsmen shake in their boots. Australia finished the day at 277/6, an effort they wouldn’t be too unhappy with after opting to bat first. Skipper Tim Paine (16) and Pat Cummins (11) were keeping vigil at the wicket on an extended day.

Australia comfortably won the first session, raising 66 runs without a loss but India struck three wickets each in the following two sessions to remain in the contest. Both teams know Saturday’s first two hours would be crucial and whoever controls that session can potentially dictate the course of the match.

As many as three of their rookie batsmen struck half-centuries as India and Australia kept trading control of the match on an eventful day. Marcus Harris (70, 141b, 10x4) and Aaron Finch (50, 105b, 6x4) raised 112 runs – the first century stand for the opening wicket of the series – while Travis Head hit a breezy 58 (80b, 6x4) and shared 84 runs for the fifth wicket with Shaun Marsh (45, 98b, 6x4) as Australia repeatedly baulked India’s efforts to seize control.

After going wicketless in the first session, India struck thrice in the post-lunch period of high-quality fast bowling to keep the Australians from building on a healthy start. Jasprit Bumrah (2/41), Umesh Yadav (1/68) and Hanuma Vihari (2/53) scalped one each to reduce Australia to 145/3 from 112/0, wresting back the initiative they had conceded in the first session.

The final session began on a promising note for the tourists after Virat Kohli pulled off a screamer at second slip to end Peter Handscomb’s brief stay. At 148/4, India did everything in their hand to penetrate further but Head and Marsh stayed firm, sometimes banking on good fortune and most of the times showing fortitude. India also squandered a chance to reduce Australia to 186/5 when Rishabh Pant grassed straight-forward edge from Marsh on his personal score of 24 off Vihari. The batsman then added 21 runs to his individual tally and 46 in partnership with Head.

India eventually got rid of both the left-handers -- Marsh falling to Vihari while attempting another cut and Head to Ishant Sharma (2/53) when the batsman slashed hard at a widish delivery to third man.

The green look of the surface appeared to have tricked India into fielding four pacers but it didn’t take too long to realise that they might have a missed a trick or two by not including left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja on a pitch that is most likely to crack. And Vihari’s two scalps only seemed to remind them of their error in judgment. This is only the third instance in their Test cricket history that India have gone without a frontline spinner in their attack.

Having been wasteful in the first hour, the Indian pacers’ hostile bowling and sustained hostility made things difficult in the middle in the second. Finch had done well to get to his half-century but he was looking increasingly shaky against Bumrah. And it wasn’t long before the pacer caught him plumb in front with a fuller ball. With true bounce on the pitch, the lbw too was taken out of the equation unless you pitched it up and swung. And it took about 10-12 overs for India to understand this.