It was a day of unexpected heroics. A few people would have expected Ravi Ashwin to be the chief carnage monger for India on the second day of a Test in Australia. A lesser few would have expected Tim Paine to better his Indian counterpart shot for shot and be the most fluent batsman of the Test so far. The only occurrence keeping up with the expectations was Prithvi Shaw leaving a gap between his bat and pads for two days in a row only to hear the sound of his stumps rattled.
But, since it required the Australian number seven to stand up for his team, there are no doubts as to who is on top in the Test after two days. India were relentless with the ball as Australia struggled to score even at two runs an over for around the 54th over in which they lost their seventh wicket. Being 133 runs behind, Australia were having a sort of a day in which a team can lose the Test. A late resistance helped by some positive batting from their skipper helped in reducing the first innings deficit to 53 runs. A number which is significant with respect to the Test but is facing saving for now.
Bumrah made up in the second spell
Sometimes runs do not matter. If someone was to tell Justin Langer that his openers, one makeshift and one out of form, will be able to blunt the new ball he would have taken that with glee. Never mind they scored only 12 runs in the first 10 overs.
India's new-ball pair started with four maidens in a row. A team opened their account as late as the fifth over for the first time in this century. Umesh Yadav tested Matthew Wade around his off stump while Jasprit Bumrah bowled good lengths to Joe Burns. But, they did not force them to make contact on most occasions or were not full enough to weaponize the new cherry. After the first 10 overs, India's bowlers had bowled 26% balls in the full region as compared to 41% by the Aussie quicks in the same period during the Indian innings. Wade was able to let 31.3% balls go and Burns as many as 53.6%.
Mohammed Shami - bowling first change - bowled his characteristic lines that tested the stumps more. By then, the openers were already more comfortable to negotiate it well.
It was the second spell from Bumrah with an updated line and length that changed the picture. Bowling full and targeting the stumps from around the wicket, he trapped Wade in the 15th over. India almost had Marnus Labuschagne in the same over as a genuine edge from his bat evaded a diving Wriddhiman Saha's right hand.
With the wicket having fired up India's quicks, there was a heaviness in the air as the Aussies started ducking and edging in discomfort. In the next over, Bumrah trapped Burns on a ball that was almost yorker length. The Aussie openers had seen through the new ball but that was about that.
India’s dodgy fielding
Till India saw the back of Labuschagne, what happened in the 18th and 23rd over seemed like the defining moments of the day. First, a top-edge from an attempted hook by Labuschagne was a regulation chance for deep fine-leg. Only for Bumrah to be worried about the boundary which was well behind, attempt an unnecessary jump to catch the ball and spill it in the process.
Then, in an absolutely disturbed frame of mind, Prithvi Shaw at mid-wicket put down a skier from a mistimed pull by Labuschagne off Bumrah. An outside edge off Steve Smith two balls later would have been in the palms of Virat Kohli at second slip if only India learnt from Australia yesterday and were standing closer at the slips.
When Mayank Agarwal shelled an easy chance off Paine at deep square leg in the 55th over, the only possible explanation for these dropped chances seemed like a reluctance of Indian openers to come out to bat under lights. The Australian captain added 47 hurtful runs after that.
Ashwin to the rescue
Albeit the dropped chances, Indian pacers had maintained a sustained pressure on the Australian batsmen all day. It took drift from Ashwin, an illusion of turn and a specialist slip catcher for the inevitable. Having lumbered on for 28 balls to score a solitary run, Steve Smith played for the turn that was not there. The ball took the outside edge and Ajinkya Rahane gulped it down with ease.
After an early wicket, almost every ball bowled from him encouraged oohs and aahs from the close-in fielders. An over after the drinks interval, Travis Head obliged and hit the attempted on drive right into Ashwin's hands.
While he lasted, Cameron Green looked assured. He was solid in his defence and proactive to pounce on a short ball from Ashwin. To perhaps the least lethal bowl he faced from Ashwin, short turning in to leg stump, he attempted a pull shot but failed to clear a diving Kohli at midwicket.
Umesh proves his worth
In the two sessions earlier, Umesh Yadav had gone for a touch more than two runs an over. A tight spell from every lens. However, on the day it seemed like he was the relief for Australia's batsmen from the torture of India's other two pacers. If not for regular runs but for frequent boundary balls. He upgraded his reputation in one over, the sixth after the Tea interval.
Three runs short of a half-century, Labuschagne ran out of luck as a back of a length ball from Umesh kept low and crashed into his pads. A review could not overturn what was a plumb LBW. With his reputation enhanced, he bent his back to test Pat Cummins off a short ball which turned out to be a Jaffa. Hitting him almost on the handle, the ball lobbed into the easiest catch of the innings to gully.
Australia’s tail wagged, India’s did not
Australia reeling at 111/7 began the Paine and Mitchell Starc counterattack. They scored 28 runs in the next 37 balls, almost quick-fire in the context of the game. There were expansive shots and urgency in running. Perhaps too much of it as it was an attempted second run to a ball played at deep square that ended Starc's aggression via a run-out.
The frustration did not stop for India as Paine added 28 for the ninth wicket with Nathan Lyon. Paine continued to latch on boundary opportunities. A cut to the backward point fence off Shami made him the second batsman to reach a half-century in the Test. Tested throughout Ashwin's spell, having a decision reversed, eluding the close-in fielders on mistimed sweeps, Lyon offered an easy chance to Kohli at midwicket to shorten India's agony.
Playing with the number eleven, Paine became even more prudent. He managed to ensure getting the strike back for the next over on most occasions. He even unleashed a reverse sweep off Ashwin to collect a boundary. At the end of the 72nd over of the innings, a bouncer from Bumrah allowed Paine to reduce the lead from 57 to 53 but this led to Josh Hazlewood being on strike in the next over. Umesh did the needful on the first ball, having Hazlewood caught at first slip off a shortish ball not before the last three Australian wickets had added 80 runs.
In a contrast, India’s last four wickets added only 11 runs this morning. If you are an overnight batsman, you wish for two things. One a ball so wide that you do not need to play at it or a ball at your legs that you can play with ease. Wriddhiman Saha received the former from Starc as his first ball of the day. He chose to attack it. With neither his feet nor his head going anywhere, all he could get was an edge to the keeper behind.
An over before - the first of the morning - Cummins removed Ashwin with a perfect delivery that you do not wish to receive first up. Neither of India's seven and eighth added to their overnight score.
India were back batting by the day got over. While the game has moved swiftly, India would not mind finding an expected hero on the third day.