Australia’s eleven for the second Test wasn’t surprising. They dropped the out-classed off-spinner Nathan Lyon for Glenn Maxwell’s alleged all-round skills, and replaced Mitchell Starc with left-arm tweaker Xavier Doherty. Doherty is no Monty Panesar, but he cannot do worse than what Lyon did at Chennai. Maxwell, who netted a million dollars at the recent IPL auction, will be out to prove he’s up to the most challenging format in difficult conditions. His inclusion pushes another all-rounder, Moises Henriques, down the order, implying that Australia now have a recognized batsman at ‘eight’. India, however, were surprisingly unchanged. A big win in the first Test couldn’t gloss over a poor performance by Harbhajan Singh, who was retained for the second fixture even as Pragyan Ojha remained out of his home game. Ojha could also have been played at the expense of a seamer, but the nature of Hyderabad pitch – and its help to fast bowling – moved Dhoni to retain his two-seamer strategy from the opening encounter.
Possibilities of India going into Hyderabad with four spinners, including Ravindra Jadeja, were not entirely unfounded. It had been done before and nothing had been more obvious at Chennai than Australia’s vulnerability to spin. MS Dhoni though stuck with his two seamers and the move paid off as Bhuvneshwar accounted for the first three Australian wickets. The young Meerut seam bowler found movement and bounce against the left-handed openers. He also claimed Shane Watson, thanks to low bounce, and confounded Michael Clarke early in his knock. Bhuvneshwar’s new-ball sharer Ishant, however, was less effective and had little to show except for a close leg-before appeal against the Aussie captain in the second session.
Harbhajan Singh is a different bowler when he’s taken a wicket. Wicket-less, he is all drooped shoulders and purposeless follow-through; after a dismissal he’s a spinner transformed, giving the ball a few extra rips purely on adrenaline. On Saturday, the 32-year-old turns looks listless early on before taking out Mathew Wade in a terrific over. Wade is first beaten in flight as Dhoni misses the stumping and then caught on the cut off a sharp turner. Moises Henriques, the new man, is done in by a succession of snarling turners from the sardar and so softened is he by the ordeal that he becames easy fodder for Ravindra Jadeja in the next over. Harbhajan returns to claim Peter Siddle, not the most prized of wickets, but the off-spinner will take whatever comes his way these days.
Maybe MS Dhoni can learn a bit of aggression from his counterpart. Known for sporting declarations, Clarke curtails Australia’s first innings on 237 soon after he is the ninth man out. The first Test centurion misses out on a hundred in Hyderabad as he runs out of partners and gets walking orders trying to force the pace against Ravindra Jadeja. Once dismissed, Clarke’s had enough, and he’d rather see James Pattinson steaming in with the ball than struggling with the bat. The surprise declaration leaves India’s patchy opening pair of Virender Sehwag and Murali Vijay to face three overs of terrifying pace, something they accomplish without giving up their wickets. The two, however, will have to begin all over again tomorrow morning.