• India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai, 4th day

Spinners put India on verge of win

The Report by Daniel Brettig
February 25, 2013 « Price: This is not the end of me | Chartbeat test »
Australia 232 for 9 (Henriques 75*, Ashwin 5-90) lead India 572 (Dhoni 224, Kohli 107, Tendulkar 81, Pattinson 5-96) by 40 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Bhuvneshwar Kumar struck a few seemly blows during his 38 © BCCI
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Showing enough good sense and simplicity of method to put his more experienced team-mates to considerable shame, Moises Henriques granted Australia a stay of execution and a narrow lead after four days of the first Test in Chennai. India seemed certain to wrap up the match for most of the day, until Henriques and Nathan Lyon formed the most substantial stand of the tourists' innings with the last wicket available.

Until that point MS Dhoni and R Ashwin had been the day's dominant figures, torturing Australia with the bat and then the ball. Michael Clarke's men were left with a familiar set of questions about why their bowlers could not extract similar results from a dustbowl, and why the majority of their batsmen had no workable method against the spinning, spitting ball.

Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh and Ravindra Jadeja all posed different questions, their triumvirate proving complimentary as the former's prancing bounce contrasted with the latter's sharp spin. Harbhajan provided something in between, bowling better than at any previous point in the match. All took advantage of the lead handed to them by Dhoni's brilliantly brutal 224, which helped take the hosts' innings well past 550 in the morning.

Before Henriques, Australia's batting carried the mentally weary tone of cricketers driven to distraction by Dhoni's innings. Only Phillip Hughes and the captain, Michael Clarke, could rightly say they had been beaten by the unplayable. The rest were suffocated by accurate slow bowling that was never challenged for any length of time by a batsman sure of his technique and tactics, until Henriques strode to within 25 runs of a defiant debut century.

Ed Cowan, Shane Watson and David Warner all squandered starts, a major sin on a subcontinental surface given the fact that some were always likely to receive a ghastly delivery early, as happened to Hughes against Jadeja, and Clarke against Ashwin.

How different things appeared when India's innings resumed. Dhoni was ninth out for 224, not only the highest score by an Indian wicketkeeper but the highest by an Indian captain, having taken his stand with Bhuvneshwar Kumar to 140 runs with a handful of further impudent blows against Australia's strung out bowling attack.

James Pattinson defeated Dhoni with a bouncer that India's captain gloved behind while trying to hook, and deservedly claimed his fifth wicket. He was Australia's only sustained threat with the ball across the innings. Nathan Lyon's figures of 3 for 215 were among the most expensive recorded by an Australian bowler in a Test, and unlike Jason Krejza he did not have eight wickets to show for it.

Watson opened due to Warner's bout of gastro, and hoisted one six from Harbhajan as lunch drew near, but off the final ball of the morning popped a catch up to slip from glove or bat handle as he prodded forward, Ashwin rewarded for his line and bounce. Cowan fought his way through but appeared highly vulnerable to Jadeja's left-arm spin, the ball fizzing out of the rough with three short-leg fielders sweating on any deflections from glove or inside edge.

The afternoon began with Cowan and Warner in stolid occupation, eschewing most shots and essentially trying to survive on a surface offering treacherous turn and bounce to skilful-enough purveyors of spin. They appeared to be getting somewhere at 64 for 1, but Cowan's closed-face push to midwicket was to cost him when a quicker, straighter delivery from Ashwin beat the bat and pinned him in front of middle. Cowan was angered, thinking perhaps that he had been given out caught at silly point, but the lbw looked adjacent enough.

Hughes was immediately confronted by Jadeja's sharp spin, and completed a most unhappy match when a ball spat devilishly out of a foothole and lobbed from glove to slip as the batsman tried in vain to take evasive action. Clarke walked to the middle with his side in a hole as mental as it was empirical, and at least tried to give the spinners something to ponder by using his feet.

Ashwin was drop-kicked for six over wide long-on then pulled to the boundary next ball as he adjusted his length, a rare moment of Australian poise against the spinning ball. However at the other end Jadeja's geometry twice appeared to pin Clarke in between wicket and wicket. The umpire Marais Erasmus remained inscrutable to the appeals.

Warner became the third Australian to squander a start when he propped forward to Harbhajan and was given lbw after a tangle of pad and bat. Warner stood aghast when Kumar Dharmasena's finger was raised, but replays again showed a ball pitching in line and straightening to strike the pad an instant before the bat. In the absence of the DRS, an advantage seemingly lies with the team able to forge ahead then place pressure on the umpires - no-one did this better than the Australians in their pomp.

Wade accompanied Clarke briefly, but was another to appear unnerved by the breadth of spin and changeability of bounce available, and was bowled attempting a presumptuous sweep at Harbhajan. Clarke and Henriques reached the interval with only the merest hope of doing anything but reduce the margin of defeat.

That hope shrunk moments after resumption, when Clarke was struck on the back pad just in front of off stump by a ball that barely bounced. Clarke's rueful expression was matched among Australia's coaching staff at the boundary's edge, as the rest of the innings followed the familiar pattern.

Obituaries were being written by the time Lyon reached the wicket, but he and Henriques in their quiet way managed to exploit tired bowlers much as Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar had done the previous evening. Unless a miracle is to be performed on day five, this will only cause Australia's batsmen to wonder at how they might have done better.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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