India on the brink of a big win

Ashwin takes five wickets again as Australia collapse in their second innings.

Back in form: Ashwin claimed another five-for at his home ground to wreck Australia on Monday.
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Very little of what remained of the denuded surface on the fourth day of the Chepauk Test would have qualified as a cricket pitch. More akin to the Martian landscape than earthly terrain, the surface connived perfectly with India’s plans of spinning out Australia to their death – which they almost did on Monday by claiming nine second innings wickets.

After concluding their first essay on 572 – a lead of 192 – in the morning, India had Australia on the mat on 232 for nine at stumps. Australia looked set for an innings defeat midway through the last session, but a fighting rearguard by debutant Moises Henriques (75*) and the much-maligned off-spinner Nathan Lyon (8*) ensured the visitors ended the day with a 40-run lead, thanks to a stubborn, unbeaten last-wicket stand of 57.

India thus have to bat again on the final day to take a one-nil lead in the four-match series. If they get there on the morrow – as indeed they should – they have to thank homeboy Ravichandran Ashwin, who has yet 12 victims, including five in the second innings. Ashwin was central to India’s three-strong spin attack that has as yet taken all 19 Aussie wickets to fall in the Test.

Spin on top

On Monday, he opened the bowling with Harbhajan Singh and removed removed Shane Watson (17) at the stroke of lunch with a ‘kicker’, to create an ominous portent for the visitors. Turn and bounce was readily forthcoming from the two-paced wicket, but even more dangerous was its tendency to foster lack of bounce, a delivery that died on pitching and gave no chance of survival to batsmen who’d have suffered against such bowling even on a pitch less malefic.

Harbhajan was finally given a extended bowl and made good his chance with two victims; Ravindra Jadeja justified his place in the eleven with a couple of his own. The ball was doing things after pitching and all the three spinners had the batsmen in a tangle, cutting them in half with those that reared dangerously, surprising them with ones that kept low, controlling the turn rather than imparting it.

Flurry of wickets

The procession started after lunch. Ed Cowan (32) battled valiantly for 97 balls before he was trapped in front by Ashwin, although the batsman looked shocked at the decision, possibly thinking he’d been given out caught (the rebound was snapped up by Murali Vijay close in).  Phil Hughes (0) prolonged his wretched run, barely surviving two balls before Ravindra Jadeja got one to snarl past him off a wicked spot. Hughes’ rapid sway back couldn’t prevent ball kissing glove on its way to Virender Sehwag at slip.

David Warner (23) came down the order due to stomach trouble. He looked cagey all through his stay until Harbhajan beat him round the inside edge, leg-before for 23. The Turbanator picked up his second when he had Mathew Wade (8) bowled trying to sweep him from outside off.

Michael Clarke (31) was not even off the mark when he was dropped by Virat Kohli at backward shortleg off Ashwin. Clarke responded by using his feet to deposit the off-spinner over long-on and then pulled him through mid-wicket. It was eventually the deceitful pitch that claimed him. A flighted Ashwin stock ball turned and barely raised itself from the surface, nudging onto Clarke’s pads for an easy ‘lbw’ decision by the umpire.

Henriques holds fort

Australia were 61 in arrears at Clarke’s exit. All-rounder Moises Henriques meanwhile had quietly begun his march to a second half-century on debut. He stayed put even as the efflux continued at the other end: Peter Siddle was bowled trying to sweep Jadeja; pace bowlers James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc became Ashwin’s fourth and fifth scalps respectively.

Henriques however emulated his captain in his footwork. He moved back to make room against Ashwin and cut Jadeja when the left-armer offered him width. He reached his second Test fifty with a massive hoick for six against Harbhajan and then lofted Ashwin over long on for the same result. The visitors ate noiselessly into the deficit as India claimed the new ball and threw it to Ishant Sharma to break the stand.

Henriques and Lyon had added 57 by close, ensuring that India would have to come out again on the final morning and get the runs. A moral victory and nothing more for Australia. The hosts would be ok with that, especially after things worked perfectly to a plan in the opening encounter.

Earlier, MS Dhoni swelled his score to 224, and past Sachin Tendulkar’s record 217, in the first session as India concluded their first innings on a mammoth 572. James Pattinson got Dhoni’s wicket to complete a well-deserved five-wicket haul, but the damage that India’s captain had wreaked upon the visitors on the third day was by then irremediable.