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CHENNAI: Sachin Tendulkar’s fondness for the M.A. Chidambaram came to India’s rescue against Australia’s blinding pace bowling on Saturday. The maestro’s balanced, unbeaten 71 extricated the home team from a dodgy start after they had lost both openers cheaply in reply to Australia’s substantial first innings 380. On a wicket whose integrity is already under suspicion, India ended the second day of the opening Test on 182 for three - 198 behind the visitors - with Tendulkar and Virat Kohli (50*) seeing things to close.
In contrast to all ten Australian wickets falling to spin, James Pattinson’s furious pace accounted for India’s three dismissals.The 22-year-old bowled just six overs all day and was used by Michael Clarke in short bursts of three overs each. Pattinson displayed little rustiness in that he was playing his first Test in three months after being sidelined by a side-strain against South Africa.
He undid Murali Vijay with a 150 kmph projectile that was chopped on to the stumps, and got the measure of Virender Sehwag with another frenetic delivery. The bespectacled opener had no clue after inside-edging the ball onto the pitch, from where it ballooned to eventually descend on top of the leg bail.
Tendulkar came out with the score on 12 for two, Pattinson steaming in, the field threatening. He dispatched the towering fast bowler for three boundaries off the first four balls he faced: two open-faced hits through the off-side, followed by a gentle glance to the fine-leg fence.
Pattinson was taken off. Tendulkar then targeted Peter Siddle, a drive off the backfoot the highlight of that encounter. Nathan Lyon’s spin was brought on and lulled the maestro into padding away at one that came into him. The loud appeal that resulted was overturned, perhaps due to Tendulkar’s long stride forward.
As with every time he walks out to bat, then began a series of records: a 67th Test half-century, 7,000 runs in India, 3,500 runs against Australia. Tendulkar's love affair with Chepauk also continued. He had scored a ton the last time he played here – in a winning cause against England in 2008 – and caused his record no damage today: he currently averages over 90 in 15 innings (with five centuries) in Chennai.
Pujara, meanwhile, had been chipping away. The solid Saurashtra batsman looked at ease as he cut Siddle and flicked Mitchell Starc and all-rounder Moises Henriques. It was a rare lapse in concentration, if not the outright speed of Pattinson, that claimed Pujara. The Aussie wrecker returned for his second spell immediately after the tea break and trashed Pujara with one recorded at just below 140 kmph, kept low and crashed into the middle stump, ending the 93-run partnership at almost four-an-over .
Kohli thoroughly dominated the 77-run stand with Tendulkar (as the senior partner went into a shell) with a fluent half-century. The Delhi batsman was particularly harsh on the spinners Lyon and part-time left-armer Michael Clarke, both of whom were intent on dishing out half-volleys. Kohli struck seven boundaries in his sixth Test half-century. With the young and the old of Indian cricket in the middle, the third day promises much for the local crowd, provided Pattinson’s troublesome first spell is negotiated safely in the morning.
Australia’s first innings was terminated twenty short of 400 after they resumed on 316 for seven, but not before they had tormented India for 38 overs on the second morning. Michael Clarke and Peter Siddle took their overnight stand to 54 before the better batsman gave up his wicket half an hour to lunch. Clarke had added a patient 27 to his score when he holed out to long-off against Ravindra Jadeja. His 130 was the highest score by an Aussie captain in India. Clarke also surpassed Greg Chappell’s Test runs tally during his knock.
Siddle had plodded along for 19 when he was set up nicely by Harbhajan Singh, who was finally introduced after the first drinks break. With the ball now gripping and turning, the off-spinner deceived Siddle with a ‘doosra’ and claimed him next ball off the edge with a faster, fuller delivery, as Sehwag finally caught something.
India had to labour for the last wicket. As lunchtime approached, Pattinson and Nathan Lyon scratched around for 12 overs, surviving with a great deal of help from umpire Kumar Dharamsena. Both emerged unscathed from numerous appeals for leg-before and lunch was delayed by thirty minutes. The frustration ended when Ashwin picked up his seventh victim: a sweeping Lyon caught adroitly by a diving Kohli at backward short leg.
Ashwin's finished with best ever figures of 7/103 and India came out after the lunch break to have their openers blown away by Pattinson’s pace. Tendulkar checked the damage, first with Pujara, then with Kohli, and stayed put till close. He is 29 away from a 101st international century and an even more prominent place – if that were possible – in our memories.