Scorecard | First day | Botham mocks Aussies | Smith confident
MOHALI: Three absorbing sessions of Test cricket followed the damp squib on the first day as India and Australia waged – for the first time this series – an almost even battle for supremacy. The visitors, having chosen to bat, benefitted from a big opening partnership between Ed Cowan (86) and David Warner (71), and a positive half-century from all-rounder Steve Smith (58*), but four wickets in the last phase of play confined their progress to 273/7 at close, on a day when 104 overs were turned in.
It took double-wicket bursts from left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja and seamer Ishant Sharma to neutralise the 139-run opening alliance, after Australia had battled for almost 50 overs without losing a scalp across the first two sessions. Jadeja engineered the first two dismissals, including Michael Clarke’s for a golden duck, and persisted with his usual tight line to claim another one near close, ending with 3/56.
Ishant toiled hard for 18 overs before dual successes came his way at the end of a long day. R. Ashwin’s solitary wicket was a poor reflection on how well he really bowled, while Pragyan Ojha, whose return to the side meant Harbhajan Singh sitting out of his home Test, also had a decent outing.
The bowlers would have done way better were it not for dropped catches. Virat Kohli dropped Cowan at least twice at first slip, while Pujara put down the same batsman at short-leg. The Aussie openers, however, worked up their first century-stand of the series not involving captain Clarke, on a pitch that offered little by way of movement or bounce in the initial stages, although some grip from the surface was available later.
Cowan and warner arrested somewhat the freefall that ‘Homework-gate’ had thrown their team into. Australia entered the match with four changes: Smith in for Shane Watson, left-arm pacer Mitchell Starc for James Pattinson, Brad Haddin for Mathew Wade and Nathan Lyon for Glenn Maxwell. Warner was the initial aggressor, tiding over appeals for ‘lbw’ against Bhuvneshwar, who had opened the bowling, before pinging boundaries off him through the off-side.
The pocket dynamite was equally assertive against Ishant – making room to force him through covers – and welcomed R. Ashwin into the attack, in the tenth over, by dancing down the track and lifting him back over his head for four.
Spin took over from both ends when Ojha came on in the 25th over, and Cowan took him for two boundaries: a short ball punched through cover, and a fuller one guided to fine leg. Ojha struggled with his line to the left-handers and when Jadeja was brought into the attack, he too was thrashed through covers by warner.
Butterfingers and Jadeja's strikes
Kohli then committed the first of his multiple follies at slip. He dropped Cowan on 35 after the southpaw, going for the cut, edged Ojha for the ball to scream past the lethargic fielder. Just before lunch, Warner completed his fifty and his healthy snick off Jadeja sped through between Dhoni and Kohli, neither man reaction to the stimulus.
Both batsmen had crossed their respective highest overseas scores when Jadeja struck twice after lunch. Cowan stepped out and flicked the left-arm spinner for four to reach his half-century and and watched gloomily as the bowler removed two wickets in as many balls at the other end.
Warner was undone by bounce after advancing to defend one, his inside-edge lobbing up in front of the wicket and Dhoni running athletically around to pouch it. Michael Clarke came in at No.3 for only for the second time in 90 Tests, and lasted one ball. The Aussie skipper stepped out and was beaten by a pluperfect left-armer’s delivery to be stumped for a duck.
Phil Hughes (2) extended his misery against India’s spinners this series to 83 balls, eight runs, and five dismissals, the latest here engineered by Ojha. He was deceived by turn and bounce as he gloved one down the leg-side and into Dhoni’s readily awaiting pouch.
Cowan, meanwhile, was blessed with more reprieves: on 64 Kohli put him down at slip, again off Ojha, and on 85 Cheteshwar Pujara flubbed him at forward short-leg off Ashwin. Luck ran out for the Aussie opener when he snicked the off-spinner to first slip, where Kohli finally held on.
Smith, the rationale of whose inclusion for Watson was hardly justifiable through statistics, began positively. He lofted Ojha back over his head for six, cleared the in-field when Ashwin erred in flight, and made room to punish Jadeja for fours through the off-side. He added a brisk 46 runs with Haddin (21) for the fifth wicket, before Ishant summoned his two wickets in three balls.
Haddin went first, playing on to a short and wide delivery that kept low; a ball later, Moises Henriques, who had impressed on debut with two half-centuries, was bowled with a little assistance from reverse swing. Peter Siddle became Jadeja's third victim and the last wicket to fall on a day on which Australia made a hash of what was a bloody good start.