Truncated partnerships, slow runs and the regular fall of wickets lit up a gripping Friday here at the Adelaide Oval while India and Australia battled for dominance in the first Test.
Trailing the visitor’s 250, the host scored 191 for seven on the second day, and its hopes rest on Travis Head (61 batting, 149b, 6x4) in the initial quest for first innings honours. A marginal lead can yield maximum value and the rivals are locked in an engrossing tussle. The Indian bowlers were niggardly and R. Ashwin bowled a spell of 22 overs on either side of lunch. Australia’s run-rate was pegged at a turgid 2.17 on a pitch that isn’t conducive to free-flowing batsmanship.
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Earlier, the morning featured dull sunshine filtering in through the clouds but the heat lingered. Thankfully for the Australian fielders, their exertions were restricted to just one ball! India’s first innings froze at the overnight 250 as Josh Hazlewood immediately dismissed Mohammed Shami.
The quick incision cleared the stage for a mosaic of oscillating fortunes. An inch was wrested, then a foot was conceded, and at times a stalemate was gaped at as each session came with its share of drama. Australia’s reply started with a tinge of hope as Aaron Finch strode out with debutant Marcus Harris. But the claps from the stands turned mute in the first over when Ishant Sharma castled Finch. The home team then briefly recovered as southpaws Harris and Usman Khawaja added 45 for the second wicket.
Harris used his feet and Khawaja found his rewards on the leg-side. The Indian seamers, bowling around the wicket to the two left-handers, took a while to sharpen their angles. Harris streaked a few through the slips off Jasprit Bumrah and when Ashwin came on to bowl from the 12th over, he nearly edged to M. Vijay at silly-point.
The opener lofted Ashwin for four and just as Australia was laying a strong foundation, the off-spinner caused the first breach. His delivery drifted and dipped, and Harris committed on the front foot, edged to Vijay. The players soon retreated for lunch and Australia was placed at 57 for two.
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After refreshments were consumed and the cutlery was returned, the cricketers geared up for an afternoon of attrition. Ashwin pitching around off-stump and tempting the batsmen to drive, bowled a touch wide in the first over after the break. Marsh was drawn, like a moth to a flame. The southpaw ended up dragging the ball onto his stumps.
At the other end, Khawaja (28) offered a dour bat before succumbing to Ashwin. The ball descended and as the batsman lined up with a straight bat, it rose, spun away and grazed his glove. The fielders’ vociferous appeal for a caught-behind had to wait for validation through a review and Australia remained tentative at 87 for four.
Just as India was tightening the noose, Australia found fresh air in the blustering ways of Peter Handscomb. He edged a hook, square-drove and flicked as three fours were pocketed off Shami. Handscomb found an ally in Head and Australia moved to 117 for four at tea.
In the last session, Handscomb survived an lbw appeal from Bumrah, but in attempting to steer the fast bowler, ended up warming Rishabh Pant’s gloves. Tim Paine walked in with his team at its tipping point - 120 for five, but he couldn’t do much. It was left to Head and Pat Cummins to mount another comeback. Their 50-run seventh-wicket partnership gifted Australia, a second wind. Saturday, though, could be arduous.