India might have forgotten what a bad day of cricket feels like. It’s been a while they come out of a day of cricket feeling as beaten and battered as they were on the second day in Pune. And it could only get worse with a possible KL Rahul injury.
40.1 overs. That’s how long India’s innings lasted as Steve O’Keefe ran riot on a turning Pune track, leaving the home side licking their wounds on a pitch that was supposed to play best to their strengths.
If India thought their day would only get better after they needed just five balls in the morning to wrap up the Australian innings for 260, they had got the script terribly, terribly wrong. O’Keefe bowled nine unsuccessful overs from the Pavilion End, before switching to the Hill End. India, at that point, were rebuilding at 94/3 but succumbed to one of their worst collapses ever, losing their last seven wickets for just 11 runs, to be bundled out for 105.
Having conceded a massive 155-run lead, India hoped to do to Australia what the visitors did to them. R Ashwin struck in the very first over to send back David Warner for 10, while Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb, too, did not have too much of an impact, falling to the same bowler. Steve Smith, however, played out a superb knock, using his feet effectively to counter-punch the spinners, to give his side an even stronger lead. He was helped by some sloppy fielding as well, with Abhinav Mukund (twice) and Murali Vijay dropping the Australian captain.
Matt Renshaw, visibly in distress, came out to bat lower down in the innings having stayed off the field during India’s innings, but showed no inhibitions as a middle-order batter. He once again showed that he can use his height to good effect to nullify the spinners as well as climb down the track and clear the infield. His 52-run stand alongside Steve Smith helped Australia increase their lead to beyond 250.
Renshaw finally departed trying to hit Jayant Yadav out of the park, but his 31 off 50 had given Australia a strong push towards batting India out on this track. Mitchell Marsh and Smith put up an unbroken 30-run stand as Australia went into Stumps at 143/4, lead of 298.
Earlier, India had a positive start after bundling out Australia for 260. Like India, Australia too opened with spin, but Steve O’Keefe, partnering Mitchell Starc, looked far from threatening. KL Rahul looked in pristine touch, and dealt in boundaries, while Vijay slowly got into rhythm. When Smith brought on Josh Hazlewood to replace Mitchell Starc after a three-over burst, the right-armer found immediate success. The change in angle worked for Australia, as Vijay feathered an edge to the keeper on 10.
India’s were dealt a crueler blow when the next fast bowling change was made. Starc, this time, replaced Hazlewood and had India’s in-form Cheteshwar Pujara (6) and Virat Kohli (0) back in the hut. It was Kohli’s first ever Test duck in India.
Rahul slammed O’Keefe for six back over his head, but immediately clutched his left shoulder in pain, leaving the Indian team in more distress. After a brief session with the physio, Rahul was back to his best. He drove sumptuously and dropped back in his crease to play the spinners late. Rahane, too, survived a few nervy moments to get his eye in. The pair also kept the runs ticking and brought up their fifty-run stand soon after.
Then, disaster struck for India. In the 33rd over, Smith asked O’Keefe to change ends it was the first time in the innings that spin was being bowled from the Hill End. By the end of that over, Australia were in full control. India were neck-deep in trouble.
Rahul was the first to go. Trying to hit O’Keefe over the top, he ended up skewing it to David Warner at long off. He was on all fours after the shot as the shoulder pain returned, and had to be escorted to the pavilion by the physio. Rahane departed next, Handscomb taking a smart catch at slip off the outside edge, while Wriddhiman Saha poked tamely to depart for a first-ball duck.
Ashwin defended a ball onto his boot and to Handscomb at short-leg as India slumped to 95/7 losing their last four wickets for a solitary run. O’Keefe came back to wipe out the tail with the wickets of Jadeja, Umesh and Ishant in quick succession. He ended with his career-best figures of six for 35, and a massive smile on his face.
Whatever slim chance India had of their fightback evaporated slowly thanks to Smith’s superb fifty, and with more than half the side still not dismissed, Australia will look at the next day with glee. They have the chance to not only bat India out of the contest, but also to wear them down by making them toil in the baking hot sun. To add to that, the track will deteriorate all the more with every passing hour, further strengthening their chances of a morale-boosting win in India.
Brief Scores: Australia 260 & 143/4 (Steve Smith 59*; R Ashwin 3-68) lead India 105 all out (KL Rahul 64; Steve O’Keefe 6-35) by 298 runs