When the first few deliveries in the first Test against Australia saw puffs of dust come off a bone dry Pune pitch on Thursday, the early consensus was India’s spinners would have a field day. (Pune Test, Day 2 highlights)
After a sensational batting collapse on Day 2 (105) triggered Australia left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe, India have conceded an overall 298-run lead to Australia --- the visitors are 143/4 in the second innings --- the hosts face a massive battle to avoid going 1-0 down in the opening match of the four-Test series.
Unless Indian bowlers produce a magical spell of bowling to dismiss Australia early on Saturday, the hosts could be staring at a huge fourth-innings target.
Only once before has a fourth-innings total of 300 plus been achieved in India. The hosts overhauled 387 set by England in the first Test in 2008. But that win was set up by a whirlwind knock by Virender Sehwag (68-ball 83) before Sachin Tendulkar (103 no) and Yuvraj Singh (85 no) raised an unbroken 163-run stand for the fifth wicket to take India home.
Crucially, then England were only hoping to draw. Here, Australia scent blood after few gave them any chance coming into this series.
Compared to that MA Chidambaram stadium pitch, the MCA Stadium track is affording sharp turn with deliveries by spinners taking off from good length. On Friday, Ravindra Jadeja repeatedly beat Aussie skipper Steve Smith but wasn’t lucky.
Besides, O’Keefe will be on a high after running through the Indian batting, claiming 6/35. India lost seven wickets to spin.
India will have to tackle more than a deteriorating pitch. Opener KL Rahul, the only home batsman to get to fifty, has a shoulder injury. Skipper Virat Kohli’s first innings duck will be weighing on the team’s mind and Ajinkya Rahane’s frailty against spin was again exposed.