After a surprising and superfast defeat on a tough pitch at Pune, India's hopes in the second Test at Bengaluru, and in the series, hung from a slim, frayed thread. They had been dismissed on Day 1 for a paltry 189 runs and Australia resumed their first innings at 40 for no loss on a bright and sunny Day 2. On a surface that provided variable bounce, the Indian bowlers led by their pacers went to work diligently to keep the Aussie batsmen quiet, and keep their side in the game.
In the 90 overs bowled on that day in the Garden City, Australian batsmen could only total 197 runs, for the loss of six wickets. The Indian pacers, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma, combined for 38 overs of testing lines, taking two wickets for 72 runs, and the spinners, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, 51 overs for four wickets and 108 runs. Though Australia had secured the lead by the end of Day 2, the disciplined bowling meant they could not get away from India. Jadeja would add three more wickets on Day 3 and the first innings was limited to just 87 runs. India would famously go on to win by the closing moments of Day 4 and the Test series was alive and kicking.
At Dharamsala, with the series up for grabs, Indian bowlers manfully limited the damage of Steve Smith’s brilliant form and restricted Australia to just 300 by the close of play on Day 1. At 144/1 in the 35th over, with David Warner and Smith well set, the visitors might have had visions of a large first innings total to bury the Indians and win the Test, and the series. And so, on Day 2, it fell to the Aussie bowlers to limit the Indians to keep the chances of a famous series win in India alive.
Patrick Cummins, who bowled 39 exhausting overs of searing pace and sharp bouncers on his comeback to Test cricket at Ranchi, produced a 10-overs spell of accurate and hostile fast bowling in the first session Day 2 at the HPCA Stadium. Josh Hazlewood backed up his 44 overs of accurate seamers in the third Test with a testing spell to the Indian openers, eventually succeeding in prising Murali Vijay out in the first session. The seamers took full advantage of the pace and bounce available on the track, and masterfully aimed for the cracks to continuously seek the edges. The game was well and truly on. Between them, the two pacers sent down 17 overs on the second morning, keeping the Indians quiet and honest, as India crawled to 64 runs at lunch.
KL Rahul, when he first appeared on the international scene, was a compact batsman with a tight defence. Since his successful IPL seasons of late, and probably encouragement from his captain and coach to play “attacking cricket”, his defensive technique has been quite suspect this home season. Even as he has scored runs at an excellent average of 57, the certainty that one would want to associate with an opener has gone missing. Post lunch on Day 2, he was put under extreme examination by Cummins and was came up short. He was already dropped pre-lunch off Cummins, and the pace and bounce had him hopping, eventually perishing while trying to pull a delivery that a clear-minded batsman would have just seen pass by harmlessly. At 108/1, India looked to take hold of the game but were pulled back down. India, however, then carefully negotiated to 153/2 at the stroke of Tea, with the Aussie pacers ensuring India did not run away with the game. The 32 overs in the middle session, though produced just one wicket, also saw India only score 89 runs. The game was still alive, with both sides desperately trying to move in to ascendancy, but the conditions and the quality of cricket preventing each other.
When the game is on such a knife edge, swinging from one side to another, a crucial performance – quick burst of wickets or runs – tilts the balance. After two sessions of accurate and testing bowling led by their pacers, Australia had done enough to provide themselves that opportunity, as did India with two of their senior batsmen – Cheteshwar Pujara and stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane – at the crease. In the first over on resumption, Nathan Lyon produced a gorgeous delivery with overspin and bounce that had Pujara – easily the best player of spin in this Indian team – misjudging the length and the turn. Lyon, soon to be the second most successful spinner in Australian Test history, delivered three more wickets in the session, and rocked India still well short of first innings parity. The Dharamsala track is probably the closest in nature to the tracks back home in Australia for Lyon and he was in his elements, squeezing every last inch of bounce off the surface. Pujara recorded yet another fifty, Rahane scored a chancy, unconvincing 46, and Ashwin a stylish 30, all falling to Lyon's consistently probing line of attack.
But at 248/6 and 52 runs adrift from parity, India's fortunes in the series rest on the shoulders of Wriddhiman Saha and Jadeja, while Australia would look to Lyon to repeat what Jadeja did on the third morning at Bengaluru. As the game stands, it is advantage Australia. One hopes this Test still holds more twists and turns, and reaches the exciting denouement similarly to the one few weeks earlier at the Chinnaswamy.