PUNE: Seven wickets for 11 runs in 7.5 overs. Unlikely to suffer such a collapse even on green tops abroad, Indian batsmen managed this on a turning track at home. The sensational packup drama at MCA Stadium shortly after lunch on Day 2 swung the first Test heavily in Australia’s favour.
A first innings lead of 155 can be decisive anywhere. On a pitch offering spin and bounce to those willing to bend their backs, it requires a more than Herculean effort to negate this advantage. With Australia extending their overall lead to 298 at the close, the writing on the wall is clear. They are firm favourites to go 1-0 up in a series they had come in as underdogs.
There was no hint of what was coming when KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane resumed proceedings after lunch. From 70/3 at the break, they had moved to 94/3 without fuss, bringing up a 50-partnership for the fourth wicket. The next highest partnership after this one was worth four, as the Test turned on its head in about half-an-hour.
Expected to play a containing role and unable to put batsmen in serious trouble in the morning session, Steven O’Keefe was the unlikely architect of the collapse. Not that he was spitting venom, but Indian batsmen succumbed one after another. It happened so fast that the diehards braving the sun in the stands hardly had time to take in what was going on. Playing his fifth Test, the left-arm spinner returned career-best and perhaps match-defining figures of 13.2-2-35-6.
It’s rare that a batsman who contributes 64 in a total of 105 is held responsible for a job gone horribly wrong, but that was the case with Rahul. Having got in and seen a few mishits fly to safety, he continued to push his luck and paid the price when an attempted heave to heaven ballooned up for long-off to run in and complete a catch. It was 94/4, but there was no clue of what was in store.
Circumspect from the start and passive contributor in the fourth-wicket stand, Rahane then closed the face of his bat against the turn to get a leading edge. Without moving his feet, Wriddhiman Saha played for a turn which wasn’t as much and O’Keefe had picked up three in an over. It was 95/6 and hopes were still alive, considering the tail’s contribution with the bat in the recent past. They disappeared in the next over when Ravichandran Ashwin fell to Nathan Lyon. The innings was over even before fans were done mourning the loss of four quick wickets.
Before O’Keefe turned terminator, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood had brought Australia back into the match after they lost their last remaining wicket on the fifth ball of the day. While the latter produced a beauty to dismiss Murali Vijay, the visiting team’s premier fast bowler got two in an over. Cheteshwar Pujara failed to negotiate a rising one, Virat Kohli chased a wide one to be out for a second-ball duck.
In Australia’s second innings, Ashwin struck early, but Steve Smith got two reprieves and batted responsibly to anchor his team towards a total that might write off India’s chances in this match.
Brief scores: Australia 260 & 143/4 (Smith 59 no, Renshaw 31, Ashwin 3/68) vs India 105 (Rahul 64, O’Keefe 6/35, Starc 2/38). Stumps. Day 2.