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Steve O’Keefe, Peter Handscomb combine, make India stutter vs Australia in Pune

Steve O’Keefe’s six-wicket haul and great close-in fielding by Peter Handscomb ensured Australia had a vital 155-run first innings lead in the first Test in Pune.

cricket Updated: Feb 24, 2017 14:34 IST
india vs australia,steve o'keefe,peter handscomb
Australia's Steve O'Keefe celebrates the wicket of India's Ajinkya Rahane on Day 2 of the first Test in Pune. The left-arm spinner took six wickets for 35.(REUTERS)

Few have been fortunate enough to witness how Eknath Solkar wove his magic at short-leg. Most have only heard those tales. In Pune though, on Friday, Peter Handscomb gave us a feel how thrilling and rewarding close-in catching can be. You may get hit once in a while. But those scooped up catches, going full length at the reaction time of less than a second, can win big matches. (LIVE BLOG | LIVE SCORECARD)

Australia are now fancying that chance, thanks to a superlative fielding effort by Handscomb and a super six-wicket haul by Steve O’Keefe.

From Mitchell Starc to Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon, the facilitators for Peter Handscomb changed from time to time. Virat Kohli is the most prized wicket for Australia but the most crucial dismissal was that of Ajinkya Rahane in the 33rd over. India had just lost a settled KL Rahul and couldn’t afford to lose more ground.

Australia's Mitchell Starc, left and Peter Handscomb celebrate the dismissal of India's captain Virat Kohli during the second day of the first cricket Test in Pune on Friday. (AP)

But Peter Handscomb pulled off a stunner. Looking to hit the ball to the leg-side, Rahane got an edge that Handscomb lunged to his right and picked up just inches above the ground. This was after Handscomb had held on Virat Kohli’s edge that came at the rate of knots to him at first slip.

More magic though was waiting for happen. With four Test centuries to his name, Ravichandran Ashwin is India’s designated No.6 and a technically proven batsman in crunch situations.

But Australia were on the upswing. Lyon was spinning the ball prodigiously and Ashwin, trying to defend close to his pads, ended hitting the ball straight to his boot.

It bounced off the boot, prompting Handsomb to once again dive forward and almost pluck it out of air. Both close-in catches had to be bounced off the third umpire but judging by his celebration, there was never any doubt in Handscomb’s mind.

By then O’Keefe, one of the older players in this Australian side, was on a roll. There were stories of how O’Keefe kept rolling his arms at the camp in Dubai before this, how he was squeezing information from consultant Monty Panesar who has been here and done that. His toil showed in Pune.

Boosted with the double haul of Rahul and Rahane, the left-arm spinner started bowling a tighter line, getting more grip and bounce.

It made Wriddhiman Saha, who scored a century against Bangladesh in Hyderabad, look so tentative that he didn’t know whether to come forward or defend. His wicket was only a matter of time.

So was Ravindra Jadeja’s wicket, after O’Keefe had got Jayant Yadav stumped. Hardly a good defender, Jadeja was lured easily into a catch by O’Keefe’s flight, resulting in the first five-wicket haul of his career.

First Published: Feb 24, 2017 14:28 IST