India 250; Australia 191/7 in Adelaide
By John Cheeran
Friday was a difficult day for storytellers at Adelaide. For a long time, they would not know where the story would take them. In the end, Australia has kept its head intact, but Indian bowlers have combined well to deliver telling body blows to it, so that Virat Kohli’s side can now claim to have seized back the advantage, almost, that is. A significant first innings lead, 30-odd runs, is India’s for the taking early on Saturday.
Friday was a day of attrition. A day not for heroics, but for steady adherence to practical principles, of sticking to line and length and leaving the batsman guessing all the time.
With that tireless customer Ishant Sharma cartwheeling the stumps of Australian opener Aaron Finch in the first over of the day, India was back in the game. Ishant succeeded in making the Australians bat as if they were playing their second innings—under pressure, under a pile of runs even though it was a modest 250—which the Australian legend Allan Border described a ‘mountain’ of runs to ABC. You play your first innings not recklessly—the way the Indians played on Thursday—but with freedom, to create opportunities to set the agenda for the Test. The Australians could not just do that thanks to the brilliant and disciplined Indian bowling.
The key feature of the second day’s game was the uncharacteristic way the Australians batted. That explained how they could approach 59 runs closer to the Indian total, pitted against high quality, disciplined pace attack of Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami. With Ashwin—bowling unchanged for 20 overs in a remarkable display of commitment– making use of the turn and bounce to take three key wickets, inducing mistakes and denying the space to make strokes, the Aussies were left with the humble approach of waiting for their opportunities rather than go after the ball. It helped them avoid a cave-in, leaving them with Travis Head unbeaten on 61 and an innings floating at 191/7 at the end of the day.
The Australians, too, did not find stroke-making easy–as Cheteswar Pujara testified after his sterling knock yesterday. With a fragile Australian batting line up, Kohli had sensed that he has the advantage after reducing the hosts to 87/4. But the Aussies held on, minimizing stroke play, and till Peter Handscomb played a churlish stroke against Bumrah to give an easy catch to wicketkeeper Rishab Pant, they could have thought about gaining the first innings lead. But what followed was Paine for Australia.
As a leader, Kohli deserves praise for bringing back his men forcefully into the game, turning the screws on, over by over, even though there were no inspired bursts from his bowlers. But on a track like this, sticking to the basics were enough to yield you the results. Despite India not able to end the Australian innings, there are enough pointers to the rest of the series that when pushed hard by the verve and variety of Indian bowlers, this bunch of Australian batsmen would be unable to cop. If only Indians could start playing a little less like Australians of the old, this Test and the series is going to be theirs.