Over 25,000 people in attendance, a top-order wobble fashioned by a medium pacer, a wicketless session, a couple of gutsy knocks, a sensational collapse engineered by the spinners and a dramatic declaration — all in a day’s work. Test cricket couldn’t be healthier.
Moments stand out like sore thumbs; in this case, a fractured cheekbone. Forget his patient 62 or, for that matter, his 145-run partnership with skipper Michael Clarke (91). Let’s just salute Matthew Wade for his bravery. Three hours later, a rush of blood, however, did him in. Wade didn’t pay heed to the bounce Harbhajan Singh extracted. Worse enough, he failed to keep the cut down. After playing his part in a remarkable rescue act that began after Australia were reduced to 63/4, Wade threw it away to make it 208/5. Ravindra Jadeja then barged through the door as the visitors lost four more for the addition of only 29 runs.
And quite spectacularly, Clarke declared the innings close — 11 deliveries after he was gone — on 237/9. Virender Sehwag and M Vijay negotiated those three overs without much ado.
Earlier, Bhuvneshwar Kumar made up for an indifferent performance in Chennai by snaring three wickets in an absorbing nine-over spell in the first hour of play. He also ended the spinners’ hegemony by becoming the first Indian new-ball bowler to pick up a wicket in this series!
The 23-year-old from Uttar Pradesh used the cracks on the pitch and the variable bounce on offer to reduce Australia to 57/3. He removed David Warner (6) in the third over of the day with a delivery that jagged back in. Minutes later, he trapped Ed Cowan (4) with an incoming delivery, albeit in controversial fashion. The ball, replays suggested, had pitched outside leg.
At 15/2, Australia needed a partnership. Phil Hughes and Shane Watson showed a lot of intent but not much application. They managed to add 42 runs, though, before Kumar got the latter for 23. Watson’s eyes lit up at the sight of a short delivery and he went for the pull. The ball kept a tad low and hit him in front.
R Ashwin conceded a solitary run off his first five overs. In his next, he had Hughes (19) caught behind in superb fashion. The left-hander went for an audacious cut, the edge thudded into Dhoni’s gloves and popped out before the skipper threw himself to his left to relive his days as a football goalie.
At 63/4, Australia were in the dumps. Clarke and Wade batted for lunch. The period after the 40-minute break saw the duo play risk-free cricket. Clarke, as usual, displayed his twinkle-toed technique throughout his four-and-a-half hour stay. He scored runs all over the wicket, but it was a straight six off Ashwin that caught the eye. He had his chances, though. First, an edge induced by Kumar dropped short of Dhoni. He survived a leg-before shout on 32 before Cheteshwar Pujara messed up a bat-pad chance at short leg with the batsman on 52.
Wade, painstakingly slow to begin with, broke the shackles with a lofted four off Harbhajan Singh. He collected the occasional boundary, but never employed the sweep. The wicketkeeper, who injured his face during training on match-eve, played perfect second fiddle to his skipper. The duo batted throughout the session as Australia took tea at 187/4, a handy 104 in 32 overs of play.
Forty minutes into the last session, Harbhajan accounted for Wade. Jadeja uprooted Moises Henriques’s stumps with a flighted one before having debutant Glenn Maxwell caught behind. Bhajji picked up his second, and Australia’s eighth, by castling Peter Siddle. Clarke went for broke and gifted his wicket to Jadeja by going for a slog-sweep only to get bowled.
India went in with an unchanged XI, whereas Australia dropped Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc for Xavier Doherty and Maxwell. The Pragyan Ojha question continued to baffle everyone.