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Ashwin spins, Clarke grins

Offie Ashwin runs through Australia top order but skipper Clarke makes the most of lucky reprieve to strike ton that rescues the visitors' innings. Sanjjeev K Samyal reports.

india Updated: Feb 23, 2013 09:44 IST
Sanjjeev K Samyal

It was at the MA Chidambaram Stadium that the India versus Australia rivalry took off when the two teams played out a thrilling tie in 1986. The contest later was fittingly named after the two men who played a sterling role in that game - Allan Border and Sunil Gavaskar.

Ever since, most series between the two have been fiercely contested. The opening day of the battle for the 2013 Border-Gavaskar Trophy quite lived up to the billing. Providing the contest a roaring start were stellar performances from Michael Clarke, debutant Moises Henriques and Ravichandran Ashwin.

In sublime form since taking over the captaincy, Clarke produced a brilliant unbeaten hundred to help Australia share the day's honours with the hosts for whom Ashwin came up with a heroic bowling effort. Reduced by Ashwin to 153 for five, Clarke and Henriques shared a 151-run sixth wicket partnership to help the visitors come back and finish the day on 316 for seven.

Playing his first Test at his home ground, an inspired Ashwin cast a spin web around the Australia top order, claiming the first six wickets to fall. His battle with Clarke was the highlight of the day, and can consider himself unlucky in not being able to end the Australia captain's domination of the India attack.

Wrong call
The Chennai boy should have had the big wicket too but umpire Kumar Dharmasena failed to pick Clarke's inside edge for a bat-pad take by Cheteshwar Pujara at short-leg. The batsman was on 38 then and didn't play another false stroke in his 169-ball effort to make it a sequence of 329 not out, 18, 210, 37, 103 not out in his last five innings against MS Dhoni's team.

On the dusty wicket, tailor-made to suit the home team's spin strength, Clarke's display was a treat to watch; the feature of his game being the brilliant use of footwork. There were periods when he even dominated the marauding Ashwin, who had set the tone for the game with wickets in his third and seventh overs.

After a lacklustre showing against England, the pressure was on the India off-spinner coming into the game. Also, he had Harbhajan Singh, playing his 100th Test, breathing down his neck. Within the first two sessions, the local star had again edged ahead of his senior pro in the race to be the first-choice spinner, having claimed five wickets before the teams took tea.

Keeping it simple
One of the main reasons attributed to his lack of success against Alastair Cook & Co was attempting too many variations. The Tamil Nadu off-spinner remained in experimental mode throughout the four-Test series and the result was disastrous for the home team. In this age of extensive analysis, it's important to continuously work on your game to stay ahead of the opposition. But, it's about finding the right balance so as not to lose your core strength. And, the lanky bowler showed in his game on Friday that he was wiser from the experience when he focussed mainly on his stock ball and also mixed it up cleverly.

While he was consistent with his line and length, he reaped the rewards for varying his speed and flight and had four of his victims leg before wicket.

Despite Ashwin's heroic bowling effort, India can't claim advantage at this stage of the game because he lacked support from the other end. Playing his landmark Test, Harbhajan failed to make any impression and Ravindra Jadeja too was predictable. On the other hand, Clarke found an able ally in debutant Henriques, who scored a priceless 68.