Australia wrapped up India’s first innings in quick time on day two of the day-night opening Test in Adelaide on Friday, needing just 25 deliveries to take the last four wickets. The procession started in the first over of the day and ended quickly.
But while most Indian fans were disappointed, they still held on to hope. And it wasn’t a lost hope; rather it was hope built on consistent brilliance. India’s bowlers have skittled out the opposition with such regularity that no one thought it was beyond them to do it again.
And once again, they did not disappoint. After being bowled out for 244, India struck back to dismiss Australia for just 191 – the first time the hosts have been bowled out for less than 300 in the first innings of a home Test, since the 2018 Boxing Day Test – for a 53-run lead in the first innings.
Virat Kohli and Co would have taken the field with some trepidation. And it showed in how they bowled initially. Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav, who surprisingly got the new ball ahead of Mohammed Shami, bowled a bit too wide and didn’t attack the stumps enough.
But what India wouldn’t have expected was Australia’s strangely passive approach. The Aussie openers, Joe Burns and Matthew Wade, just didn’t look to score. As good as the Indian bowling was, Australia allowed Bumrah and Co to find their groove by just looking to play out the new ball.
Things became more difficult for the Australian batsmen as soon as Shami was brought into the attack. He was more direct – looked to attack the stumps and make the batsmen play. It immediately demanded more from the batsmen and that is where Bumrah took his cue from in his second spell.
Bumrah’s first two spells:
First spell: 4-2-4-0
Second spell: 4-3-4-2
He still gave nothing away but he trapped Wade and Burns leg before the wicket. Since the batsmen weren’t playing shots, it was easier for the bowlers to shift their line closer to the stumps without worrying about any backlash.
Australia’s approach didn’t change though. It might even be argued that India just didn’t let them by constantly keeping up the pressure. Perhaps, the Aussies were playing the reputation; perhaps they were afraid.
As the fast bowlers started getting tired, off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was pressed into the attack and he almost immediately had an impact.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon had been very impressive for Australia in the first innings and Ashwin was in the mood as well. While Lyon relied on pitching the ball outside the off-stump and letting the turn and the bounce do their thing, Ashwin got in closer to the wicket and relied on more subtle variations.
Australian No 3 Marnus Labuschagne was leading a charmed life in the middle. An edge off his third ball fell just short of the wicketkeeper, he was dropped on 12 (by Bumrah in the deep) and then on 21 (Pritvi Shaw at square leg). He wasn’t looking confident and it only got worse when Steve Smith was dismissed.
Everyone kept thinking about how the pacers would get Smith (1 off 29 balls) out but it was Ashwin who came up with the answer instead. The Australian batsman never really got going and then the off-spinner produced a delivery that held its line. The previous delivery had turned into Smith but this one just went straight on, took the edge and went straight to Rahane at first slip.
After that, Ashwin really had his tail up. He got Travis Head (7) caught and bowled and the brilliance of Virat Kohli in the field helped him send back Cameron Green (11). In a sense, he ripped out the heart of the Australia batting order to reduce them to 79/5 after 40.3 overs.
Let that sink in, Australia had scored at less than 2 runs per over for over 40 overs. It was their lowest score at that particular stage of an innings since 1999.
Labuschagne found an able partner in Australian skipper Tim Paine, the only player among the recognised batsmen who looked to be positive. The runs started flowing that tad bit quicker. India, if only just, went on the back foot and they continued to drop their catches.
Paine was given a life on 26 but Labuschagne (47) was finally trapped lbw by Yadav. Australia were down to 111/6, with only the tail to come.
However, the tail wagged and Australia made their way to 191 before being bowled out. Paine remained unbeaten on 73 off 99 balls. The next highest was Labuschagne with 47. No one else got past 15.
Bumrah (2/52), Umesh (3/40) and Ashwin (4/55) showed that this Indian bowling attack has an answer to whatever question the opposition may throw up. There may be a temptation to look down on Shami’s efforts. He ended up with 17-4-41-0 but he played his role as well and on another day might have ended up with plenty of wickets.
But India’s struggles against the tail came to the fore once again. After running through the top order in quick time, Kohli and his bowlers seem to run into a mental block. The line changes, the fielders move into defensive positions and that allowed Australia to find their way back into the game a bit.
In their second innings, India lost Prithvi Shaw early yet again to finish the day on 9/1 but 15 wickets fell on a fantastic day two and it may only get more exciting on Day 3.
Will India and Kohli bat Australia out of the match or will Australia’s brilliant bowling attack pull them into the match? As always, there are no easy answers when India play Australia.