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Measured bowling in favourable conditions planted India firmly in the driver's seat on the first day of the second Test against Australia, whose first innings was restricted to a manageable 237 for nine after Michael Clarke elected to bat at Uppal's Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium.
Clumps of wickets sandwiched the only partnership of note. Michael Clarke (91) and Mathew Wade (62), batting with a fracture, added 145 for the fifth wicket in the post-lunch session, which was abutted on either side by a cascade of dismissals. Four batsmen were done for in the crucial morning phase (thanks largely to seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar) and five perished in the last session (thanks to the spin team of Ravindra Jadeja and Harbhajan Singh), before Clarke declared the innings to allow his fast bowlers a three-over shot at India's openers before stumps.
It was not a given, but Virender Sehwag and Murali Vijay survived three overs in dying minutes, and will resume on Sunday to press on India's advantage as they chase a deficit of 232. But the position of strength India found themselves in was engineered by the bowlers. Bhuvneshwar (3/53) drew first blood, and Jadeja (3/33) and Harbhajan (2/52) turned murderous in the final span of play after Clarke and Wade had thwarted them post lunch.
Australia were rocked early after Clarke elected to bat on a pitch expected to assist fast bowers and give in to spin eventually by, say, the third day. The surface made its leanings known right away. Following a wicket-less Test debut in Chennai, young Bhuvneshwar took three in an inspired opening spell of swing bowling.
He brought the ball sharply into the left-handers. David Warner (6) lost his leg stump to an in-cutter; opening partner Ed Cowan (4) was trapped in front of middle by a similar delivery. Playing purely as a batsman, Shane Watson (23) looked pleasing as he struck four boundaries, but was out trying to pull a rare Bhuvneshwar short delivery that didn’t bounce as much as he anticipated, and thudded into the thigh pad of his bent back-foot.
Ashwin came on in the 12th over of the morning and bowled four straight maidens. The pressure yielded Phil Hughes, whose 24-ball, run-less struggle against the off-spinner ended with a sharp, second-attempt catch by MS Dhoni. Ashwin brought one to turn and bounce away from middle, took Hughes’ outside edge as he went for the cut, for the Indian captain to make amends for his spill with a dive.
The dismissal left Australia on 63/4 and allowed the commencement of a record 145-run stand between Clarke and Wade. Clarke, meanwhile, was playing a game of his own. He used his feet to loft Ashwin for six back over his head and punched Ishant Sharma – the most ineffectual of India’s bowlers – through cover off the back-foot.
Ishant had a close leg-before shout against the Aussie captain just after lunch, but umpire Erasmus adjudicated the ball would have gone down leg. Clarke went on regardless. He drove Bhuvneshwar gloriously on the leg side – the shot bisecting the two short-midwickets – and reached fifty with a pushed single off Ravindra Jadeja. He was handed another ‘life’ when Cheteshwar Pujara dropped him at short-leg off Ashwin, who had been held back by Dhoni after lunch.
Wade, at the other end, had grown quietly in confidence. He moved back and forth to strike Harbhajan square or back over his head and pulled and cut Ashwin, who was in the middle of a middling post-lunch spell. The wicketkeeper-batsman reached fifty with a single and then came up the hundred of the partnership.
As tea neared, the scoring picked up, Clarke taking Ashwin for successive, footwork-realized boundaries, before skipping out to lace Jadeja through the on-side; Wade showed his increasing comfort by playing Ashwin straight for four. Australia scored 104 without losing a wicket in the middle session, pulling things back somewhat after a disastrous beginning. But it wasn’t all smooth after tea, when India roared back with five quick wickets.
The 200 came up and just as the stand crossed the record alliance for Australia against India for the fifth wicket, Wade lost his concentration against Harbhajan. Having received a missed stumping chance on the previous ball, he went after the bowler outside off and cut it wide for a diving Bhuvneshwar to complete the catch: Australia’s fifth wicket, and Harbhajan’s first.
The off-spinner was a bowler transformed after the dismissal. He gave the new man, all-rounder Moises Henriques (5), a torrid time, turning the ball sharply, gaining cumbersome bounce and pushing the length further into the batsman. The first-Test double half-centurion struggled to read the off-spinner, but finally became a classic left-armer’s dismissal, thanks to Jadeja: the delivery drew him forward and beat him with just enough turn to rattle into middle stump.
Australia had now slumped to 217 for six as Glenn Maxwell walked out on Test debut, which was to last an unlucky 13 runs in his maiden innings. It was Jadeja again who felled him, with a straighter ball that took the edge as it screamed into Dhoni’s gloves. Clarke was 12 away from a century and with 10 overs remaining in the day lost another partner when fast bowler Peter Siddle was out leg-before to Harbhajan.
It was perhaps haste to get to three-figures that cost Clarke, as he was bowled trying to sweep the infuriatingly accurate Jadeja seven overs to close of play. Clarke then surprised everybody by declaring Australia's first innings on 237 for nine, allowing his fast bowlers some three overs at India's opening batsmen before stumps.