In the end, only Moises Henriques offered some resistance as the Indian spinners removed all 20 Australian wickets in Chennai, a feat which they have achieved only twice before. It was a pitch that was tailor-made for spinners. It is not that the Australians were taken aback by the amount of purchase that the tweakers got from the Chepauk track. The lack of application led to their fall. Barring skipper Michael Clarke, who scored a ton in the first innings, and debutant Moises Henriques, none of their batsmen looked equipped enough to face Indian bowlers.
Australia chose to bat on a track that was certain to crumble in the following days. They started well with opening pair of Ed Cowan and David Warner putting up a half-century stand. The ease with which the pair was facing the Indian pace duo of Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar led Dhoni to bring veteran offspinner Harbhajan Singh as early as sixth over of the day. An over later R Ashwin was introduced. Things started happening. Sehwag, who has been of late criticised for his catching apart from batting, dropped a catch in the slip, denying Ashwin a wicket in his first over. Ashwin again came closer to taking a wicket in his next over. But the extra bounce that the ball generated helped Warner survive a difficult stumping chance.
Cowan was classy at first and he even lofted Harbhajan for a six. However, his growing confidence and inexperience led to his fall. In the next over after he had hit a six, the southpaw reattempted the stroke off Ashwin. He failed to reach the pitch of the delivery and was outfoxed. Dhoni had all the time in the world to remove the bails and Cowan had thrown away a strong start. Phil Hughes, Shane Watson and David Warner followed him soon. Only Warner managed a significant score among the first five batsmen as a collapse looked inevitable. Thanks to a century stand between Clarke and Henriques, Australia avoided being folded out for a cheap total. Clarke slammed another century and debutant Henriques gave their top order batsmen a lesson in dealing with the spinners.
The Indian opening pair failed to give them a start. In came Sachin Tendulkar at No. 4 and he left the bitter memories of the England series behind, displaying intent to dominate the bowlers right from the first delivery reminding everyone of his younger days. Virat Kohli played a flawless innings and deservedly scored a ton. However, everything was overshadowed by the exploits of the Indian skipper. He scored a brilliant double century that turned the course of the match and brought India into the driver’s seat. It was his knock of 224 runs that put his team in a position from where they began calling the shots.
A lot better was expected from the Australian batsmen in their second dig as they looked to wipe out a lead of 192 runs.
They fared worse. However, the luck also evaded few of them (Hughes and Clarke) while others wasted a good start (Watson, Warner, Cowan).
Australians shuffled their batting order, asking Watson to partner Cowan in place of Warner in the second innings. The move failed and Watson departed for the pavilion with the scoreboard reading 34/1. Warner and Hughes failed and even Clarke succumbed to the deteriorating pitch. Again, Henriques came to their rescue and it was the last wicket stand that he conjured up with Nathan Lyon that saved them from an innings defeat. His unbeaten stay at the crease should have embarrassed the Australian top order.
The approach of Clarke and Henriques should have been emulated by the others. Both of them went after the deliveries with soft hands and were quick on their feet. The others either overdid it or were perplexed as to whether to stay inside or charge forward. The batsmen must learn quickly and they should employ a balanced approach following the example of their skipper.
Australia missed a trick by choosing to go with a pace-heavy attack. In Nathan Lyon they had only one specialist spinner. Thus they repeated the mistake of the English team that went with only Graeme Swann in the Ahmedabad Test last year and ended on the losing side. They rectified it by including Monty Panesar in the next. He took 17 wickets in the remaining Tests and played a major role in their eventual series win. In Ashton Agar, Xavier Doherty they have options to play with a second spinner. To expect these rookies to do a Monty will be too much of an expectation. However, if the pitch that they are going to encounter is again going to be a spinner’s paradise, playing with an additional slow bowler sounds logical.
For India, their problem is the opening pair. Murali Vijay and Virender Sehwag failed to provide starts in both the innings. Vijay was done in by a stunner from Pattinson in the first innings while he failed to keep his drive on the ground against the same bowler and departed after being caught in the second innings. Sehwag was showing intent to stay in the first innings and was defending well. However, he will feel unlucky to have not spotted the ball as it bounced and removed the bail even as he searched for it on the pitch. As he came back to lead India’s chase, the intent to hit everything outside off was evident. A few edges flew safely. But Lyon, looking better on a surface that was now offering a lot of assistance to the bowlers, had him caught at first slip.
Other than that, Ashwin, who was under criticism for his lacklustre performance against England, redeemed himself with a brilliant performance that fetched him 12 wickets in the Test. As Sanjay Manjrekar said, it was good to see him using his off-spinners frequently and bowling around off-stump line that brought him much success.
The next Test starts from 2nd March that leaves Mickey Arthur with little time to deal with the Australian batting woes. He might take inspiration from archrivals England who staged a spectacular comeback in the second Test against India after losing the first game last year.