India vs Australia: Ashwin, Shami tilt balance in India's favour

India tightened its grip on the first India vs Australia Test after Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohammed Shami bagged two wickets each to leave the host side at 104 for four on the fourth day.

Australia is eyeing the highest fourth innings chase at the Adelaide Oval and will have a herculean task at hand when day five gets underway.   -  getty images

India is on the cusp. Barring a last-gasp comeback from Australia, Virat Kohli’s men are seemingly set for a triumph on Monday.

The first Test’s fourth day advanced the visitor’s fortunes. India scored 307 in its second innings and Australia, pursuing a daunting 323, was 104 for four at close on Sunday and still adrift by 219 runs.

The local fans may yearn for a miracle at the Adelaide Oval but batting in a match’s fourth innings is never easy.

Shami, Ashwin rattle Aussies

The chase commenced with its share of drama. Ishant Sharma wavered between adrenalin and anguish. He trapped Aaron Finch in front, just that it was a no-ball.

But at the stroke of tea, R. Ashwin prised out Finch. The batsman could have sought a review as the replays were vague about the snick. Finch didn’t and it just reiterated that this contest was swaying to an Indian tune.

READ: Sanjay Bangar lauds Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane

After tea, Marcus Harris clattered two fours off Ashwin but perished while trying to dab Mohammed Shami down to third-man. Much hinged on Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh.

However for the host, Ashwin spun a web. Khawaja moved forward, the lofted shot about to be executed when the off-spinner’s dip and drift left the southpaw in a tangle. Khawaja sliced the shot and a diving Rohit Sharma was rewarded for his anticipation.

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Marsh cut Ashwin fine and also watched Peter Handscomb depart. And in the commentary box, three men wistfully observed. Allan Border, Ricky Ponting and Mark Waugh, have between them 32,581 Test runs. Grit, dominance and style were their respective attributes.

Those traits and a tiny fraction of their cumulative tally, could help Australia cruise but in the ‘here and now’ of the current game, Tim Paine’s men are struggling for a toehold. Marsh (31 batting) and Travis Head have a huge task on their hands but Kohli’s men have nearly sealed this contest.  

Pujara, Rahane dominate proceedings

India’s dominant streak was evident from the morning. Resuming at 151 for three, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane adroitly countered Australia’s pace troika and off-spinner Nathan Lyon.

Mitchell Starc lost his radar and sprayed deliveries down the leg-side. Skipper and wicket-keeper Paine often dived in vain and the extras column bulged with 21 byes.

In a fine follow-up to his remarkable hundred during the first dig, Pujara notched a fifty. India owes this match to its doughty number three, much like it did when Rahul Dravid reigned supreme here in 2003.

Meanwhile at the other end, Rahane was splendid. He stood upright and drove Pat Cummins past cover. Control and flamboyance were layered into that shot and a valuable 87-run fourth-wicket partnership gained heft.     

Lyon, frustrated by the Indians for a while, finally surprised Pujara (71, 204b, 9x4) with extra bounce. Rahane soon reached his fifty with fellow Mumbaikar Rohit for company. The latter succumbed to Lyon, dancing down, foxed by the length and tamely jabbing to a diving Handscomb at silly-point. Yet, there was no doubting India’s ascendancy while its lunch-score stood at 260 for five.

India commits hara-kiri

Post-lunch, there was a flurry of runs and wickets. Rishabh Pant’s cameo, a collapsing tail and Rahane’s (70, 147b, 7x4) reverse-hit of Lyon that found Starc, were vignettes on fast-forward mode. India slumped from 300 for six to 307 all out. Lyon (six for 122), who missed a hat-trick, and Starc shared the spoils. And it was time for Australia’s batsmen to gape at a steep mountain.

India holds the reins and Monday could offer validation.