The aggression has now translated into a war of words. Australia, led by ‘comeback’ man Shane Watson, showed some intent and fighting spirit at the Kotla on Saturday. Yes, it’s too late in the series, but the manner in which the visitors used all the tricks in their kitty to restrict India to 266 for eight at stumps on Day Two made one thing clear. We are going to witness a cracker of a contest over the next three — should we say two — days.
Michael Clarke has flown back home. But the new man in the hot seat has, perhaps, decided that his team won’t go down tamely. Watson was ‘ably’ assisted by two of his fellow ‘homework defaulters’ in Mitchell Johnson and James Pattinson.
Having been bowled out for 262 exactly 41 minutes into the day, Watson led his troops onto the field with a different set of ideas and approach. The visitors managed to add 31 vital runs to their overnight score. Peter Siddle was the first to go, but not before he completed a well-deserved half century. R Ashwin registered his ninth five-wicket haul in only his 16th Test.
New-ball bowlers Johnson and Pattinson made life miserable for the top order, dishing out a slew of short-pitched deliveries. It’s a different matter that openers Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara survived the storm with a 108-run stand.
These were trying times, mind you. The Aussies were all aggression, happily sledging the batsmen in a bid to wreck their concentration. The bowlers were running in and bowling quick, and the fielders were on high-alert mode. Watson decided to step up the attack after Pujara and Virat Kohli fell. Even the arrival of Sachin Tendulkar made little difference to his approach. The pendulum swung either way quite often as India kept losing wickets at regular intervals. There was no dearth of action, drama and tension as Tendulkar was adjudged not out off the bowling of offie Nathan Lyon early in the innings.
The sustained pressure took its toll on the hosts as Lyon took three out of four wickets to reduce India to 165/4. The real drama began when he trapped Tendulkar plumb in front. At 180/5, MS Dhoni ran onto the ‘danger area’ of the pitch and this resulted in a heated exchange of words between David Warner and the Indian skipper. The umpires then turned to Watson. The Aussies continued to be aggressive, but Ravindra Jadeja’s counter-attacking 43 off 49 balls saved India the blushes and also helped the hosts take a slender lead of four runs.
What happened on Saturday was the appetiser. Lyon and his figures of 5/94 proved the Aussies are capable of pulling off a coup in Delhi. And given that India are to bat last on this pitch, anything can happen.