It was a peach of a delivery and the look of bewilderment on Michael Clarke’s face summed up the first half of Australia’s six-week sojourn. A few overs earlier, the skipper had executed an attractive inside-out shot by lofting Ravindra Jadeja well over mid-off. Clarke was in familiar territory, though. The visitors had lost Shane Watson to an innocuous down-the-leg ball in the third over of the day, one that fetched Ishant Sharma his first wicket of the series. At 75/3, and with Australia 191 away from making India bat again, Clarke mustn’t have lost hope. Ed Cowan was batting responsibly, holding one end up. And the wicket wasn’t behaving strangely either. Australia crossed the 100-run mark without much ado.
Jadeja was in the midst of a longish spell. He pitched one on middle stump. It was a length ball and dipped on the batsman, who intended to employ the trusted forward defensive stroke. The cherry, though, turned subtly before disturbing the off stump. Clarke shook his head several times before walking back to the hut. It had to happen. How many times would he bail them out?
At 108/4, you didn’t need a Navjot Singh Sidhu to tell you the game was over. But you wished someone told you how Australia could fold up in such a deplorable fashion. Losing a couple of Test matches is understandable. But losing six wickets for 23 runs in 21.2 overs is beyond comprehension. And we are talking about Australia, mind you. Not Bangladesh, not Zimbabwe, but Australia. Is the battle-hardened Aussie an extinct species? Is that famed fighting spirit a thing of the past? Warne (the commentator) had had enough in Chennai. Don’t be surprised if Hayden follows suit!
Here’s the result. Australia made 237 and India 503 before the visitors put up a shambolic performance to get bowled out for 131, giving India victory by an innings and 135 runs with a day and two sessions to spare. The win was MS Dhoni’s 22nd in Tests, thereby making him the most successful Indian skipper of all time. Michael Clarke earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first captain to lose a Test after declaring in the first innings. India took a 2-0 lead in the series and the bandwagon now moves to Chandigarh which will host the third Test from March 14-18.
Back to the spectacular implosion on Tuesday — the Australian line-up resembled more like a schoolboy team. Cowan, who had held fort all this while, became Jadeja’a second victim when he chose to play the cut when it was not required. The ball skidded on and brushed past MS Dhoni’s pads before settling into Sehwag’s palms. Cowan made 44, but his side could have done with a 100 more.
Mr Nelson wasn’t going to be happy with one and 111/5 became 111/6 when Jadeja pulled off a stunner by effecting a direct hit from cover in the very next over bowled by R Ashwin. He’d fumbled before collecting the ball, but Moises Henriques was still caught a metre outside the crease at the striker’s end.
Keen to join the party R Ashwin got Glenn Maxwell with the now-sparingly used carrom ball. The clueless debutant chose to flick it but the ball hit the back pad and that was that. Jadeja claimed another one — his sixth of the match — in dramatic fashion. As usual, he bowled one with a flatter trajectory. It pitched outside off, took the edge while spinning away before Dhoni’s pad and heading towards first slip. Gully fielder Virat Kohli beat Virender Sehwag to it, though. By now, the 8,000-odd spectators were yelling for more. And Australia were more than willing to surrender. Horrible shot selection, awful application and absolute lack of patience — a potent recipe for disaster on a slow pitch. Well, 130/8 became 130/9 when Matthew Wade fell to a soft dismissal. Sehwag, stationed where he was, didn’t have any competition this time.
James Pattinson and Xavier Doherty hung around for nearly nine overs before Ashwin sealed the deal with his fifth by claiming Pattinson LBW only two minutes after the session had been extended. And when the clock struck 11:32 am, Australia’s humiliation was complete. It wasn’t even a square turner!