A maiden six-for by Steve O’Keefe followed by an unbeaten half-century from captain Steve Smith put Australia on the driver’s seat at the end of Day Two at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune on Friday. (DAY 2 BLOG)
Coming on to bat in the second innings, Australia had 143 runs on the board for the loss of four wickets, after bundling out India for a paltry 105 to walk off with a healthy lead of 298 at the end of the day. Earlier, it was a shambolic collapse for the hosts who lost seven wickets in just 11 runs as O’Keefe spun a web around the Indian batsmen. (SCORECARD)
At 93 for the loss of three wickets, India may not have been in a comfortable position, but KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane had done enough to help them claw back after a twin strike by Mitchell Starc sent captain Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujar packing in the same over.
It was a brilliant breakthrough for Australia, who had managed to put up 260 on the board in their first innings after Ashwin had overnight hero Mitchell Starc caught at deep mid-wicket in the very first over of the day.
Pujara was gone off to a delivery that came up to his chest and while trying to fend it, he let the ball take a slight edge off his gloves to go flying at Matthew Wade behind the stumps. That, however, did little to deter the Pune crowd from cheering and celebrating as Virat Kohli came out to take guard.
Two balls later, it had to stop, all too sudden for anyone to come to terms with it, as Kohli chased a wide delivery outside off-stump, and gave a sharp catch to Peter Handscomb at first slip. Since then, apart from a few odd boundaries, a few Australian wickets and when the television cameras hovered around them, that uncanny silence was never broken.
The sinking feeling was always there, but KL Rahul’s reckless shot to throw away his wicket after scoring a fine half-century started a batting collapse from where India never recovered.
Smith played his cards quite well, giving short spells to his seamers while changing ends for the spinners when required. It was the third spell for Steve O’Keefe that did the trick for the Aussies as after removing the well-settled KL Rahul, he dismissed Rahane and Wriddhiman Saha in the span of just four deliveries.
The misery didn’t stop though. Nathan Lyon struck in the next over and had Ashwin caught by Handscomb at short-leg after the ball took a bump off his boot. The procession continued, and soon, India were all out for 105.
It was an explosive start by David Warner as Australia came on to bat in a much more confident manner than they had in the first innings. He swept and reverse-swept Ashwin in the very first over to pick up two boundaries but before he could build on the fiery start, the offie had him trapped in front of the last ball.
His partner, Shaun Marsh, too didn’t last long and was outdone by Ashwin in a similar fashion a couple of balls later. Like in his first innings, Handscomb started well, but failed to consolidate and fell to Ashwin soon. With three gone for 61, Matt Renshaw finally came out to bat and stitched a 52-run partnership with his captain who was on song at the other end. The duo relieved the pressure, forced Kohli to bring a change in his bowling pattern after Ashwin and Jadeja shared the opening 27 overs between them, and took Australia to a commanding position.
Renshaw struck five boundaries in his 50-ball stay but holed one to Ishant Sharma on the ropes after trying to go for a big shot. Smith, on the other end, was using his luck to full effect. He was dropped thrice in his 117-ball stay, twice by Abhinav Mukund and once by Murali Vijay, and the Australian captain rode on it to score a fine half-century to take the game away from the hosts. He hit a few glorious drives, paced his innings well with seven boundaries, and with Mitchell Marsh on the other end, saw off the day with any trouble.