Bowler Harbhajan Singh during the 1st Test match between India and Australia at MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai. Santosh Harhare/HT
Increasingly, as the series has progressed, Michael Clarke has resembled the captain on the burning deck. Despite his heroic 91, the skipper again saw Australia crumble around him. The poor batting has shifted all the pressure on to their bowling unit, for if they concede too much ground on Sunday, the Border-Gavaskar series might well be over as a contest.
Having won the toss, any hopes of testing the hosts by batting big were over by the first evening. To give his bowlers every available option, Clarke made an enterprising declaration, the first skipper to do so on the first day since 1974. In the three overs they got, Australia’s aim of picking a wicket didn’t fructify.
It’s the visitors’ top order which should take most of the blame. Matthew Wade, braving a fractured cheekbone, was the only batsman to provide support to his captain, the two adding 145 runs for the fifth wicket. In these conditions, the Aussies were expected to struggle against spin but the way they fared against pace would have shocked even their staunchest supporters.
The innings never recovered from the shambolic display at the top. On sub-continent wickets, batting against the new ball is considered the easiest phase of the innings. But Australia were tottering at 57 for three - Warner, Cowan and Shane Watson all back.
Their wrecker was not a towering, broad-shouldered fast bowler with a snarling face. As Clarke looked on disbelievingly, doing the damage was a pacer of medium build. For a fast bowler, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is frail. Looks can be deceptive, especially if you have mastered the art of moving the ball, a fact, Australia's left-hand opening combination will vouch for. Kumar can be a slippery customer. Warner’s leg stump was sent cart-wheeling while Cowan was trapped in front with deliveries that snaked in after landing on the seam.
It’s a day the Meerut boy will cherish, it was his first step to prove himself in the toughest format of the game.
There were doubts whether he had it in him to do well in the longer version after a listless showing on debut.
Clarke and Wade were engaged in an intense battle with the spinners. Clarke’s only blemish was a reprieve he got on 52, when Pujara at forward short leg dropped him off Harbhajan Singh.
Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja took centrestage in the final session, snapping up three quick wickets to hasten Australia’s end. The dramatic collapse was triggered by Harbhajan’s wicket of Wade, as the visitors lost five wickets for 28 runs.