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Saturday, 23 March 2013

A thriller on the cards

NEW DELHI: Finally, a day like one that we'd hoped would mark the first of the series: there was needle, there was lip, and for once there was to proceedings the semblance of a fight. That it’s still an even game at the end of the second day should imply a moral victory for Australia, such has been their sorry tour; for at stumps on Wednesday, the harassed visitors held India to 266/8, confining the lead to just four on a pitch on which the hosts will bat last.

The much-maligned Nathan Lyon (5/94) was the pick of the bowlers. Branded the culprit for his team's abject surrender in the first Test – that set the tone for the series – the off-spinner was a handful on a surface that was still resisting the transformation from potential minefield to impossible batting track.

Lyon picked up his fifth on the last ball of the day, nailing R. Ashwin, who had earlier completed his ninth five-for on the morning, plumb in front. The way Lyon troubled Sachin Tendulkar (32) was reward enough, although tying up the maestro these days counts for little, and his greater achievement was in dislodging Cheteshwar Pujara (52) and Virat Kohli (1) after the 108-run opening stand between Pujara and Murali Vijay (57).

Regular dismissals halted the hosts, before Ravindra Jadeja (43) nudged them closer to wiping out the deficit. Jadeja featured in vital partnerships for the sixth and seventh wicket - with MS Dhoni (24) and Ashwin respectively - before he was out to a marginal 'lbw' call in Glenn Maxwell's first over of the day. 

Hundred for Ojha
Australia were earlier dismissed for 262 as Peter Siddle completed his maiden Test fifty and Pragyan Ojha reached 100 wickets. Thirty-one were added before the final two were taken, the wickets split between India's two chief spinners.

The half-centurion was bowled by Ashwin – his ninth five-for in 16 Tests – and Pattinson was taken by Kohli off Ojha. The left-armer thus became the third-fastest Indian to 100 wickets, behind Erapalli Prasanna and Anil Kumble, in his 22nd Test.

Century stand
Pujara opened again, this time to accommodate the debutant Ajinkya Rahane at No.5, and helped himself to a rare half-century that he did not manage to convert into three-figures. Half-volleys from James Pattinson and Mitchell Johnson were driven authoritatively through covers, strays on the pads were guided to fine-leg; Pujara was untroubled until he played for the turn against Lyon, and was bowled when the delivery failed to deviate enough.

Vijay was tested somewhat initially. Edges off Johnson raced to the fence while Peter Siddle, who had earlier completed a first-ever Test fifty in the morning, beat him with movement. But when a bowler erred, Vijay pounced upon the opportunity like cat upon a ball of wool.

Lyon was hit back and over and the Johnson flicked through mid-wicket, before the Chennai batsman reached his third successive half-century. Two wickets arrested the flow of runs after lunch. Pujara’s solitary lapse in reading Lyon saw him on his way, followed by the departure of Virat Kohli, who was out ‘lbw playing across to the same bowler, for one.

Tendulkar struggles
Tendulkar strode in (for the first of his two last Test innings on home soil?) and struggled against Lyon. Twice the off-spinner rapped him on the pads – pure luck saving the batsman the first time – before the maestro stepped out to lace him inside-out through covers.

It got even racier after tea.

Tendulkar punched and flicked Siddle for fours to begin the session and then a Siddle delivery erupted menacingly from a crack and slammed into Vijay, who gloved it to the wicket-keeper. Rahane was then accorded a grand welcome on debut as a bouncer thunked into his helmet, a strangulating close-in field in place.

Debut dashed
A maiden Test boundary later, Rahane popped a catch to backward short-leg off Lyon, giving way to Dhoni, who creamed it through covers for a four first ball. The Indian captain was dropped on 11 by Steve Smith at backward short-leg, but in the same over Lyon netted the bigger fish: Tendulkar was finally given out leg-before for 32 after playing back and missing, India's score on 180.

Dhoni and Jadeja spent an entertaining time in the middle. Jadeja got into a bit of a verbal scuffle with an animated David Warner; Dhoni ran straight down the pitch, much to counterpart Shane Watson's disgust; umpire Aleem Dar had to get a word in to prevent an escalation of events.

The Super Kings were whittling briskly away at the deficit when Dhoni pulled Pattinson casually and straight to mid-wicket, India still 52 runs behind. Another Super King came out in the form of Ashwin and joined Jadeja for more crucial runs, taking India nearer to a lead that may prove game-changing on such a treacherous pitch.

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