There was something on day two of the Bengaluru Test between India and Australia that made it different from the way it has been in the series so far. It was a day when India didn't meekly roll over in the face of Australian onslaught. Having been annihilated inside three days in the first Test in Pune, and having faced batting failure in the first day of the ongoing Test, the Indians toiled hard to drag themselves back into the match and the series. In the process, what they managed to do was prevent the visitors from running away with the match, which they threatened to at a point of time, having gone to stumps on day one only 149 runs behind and with all their wickets in the kitty.
Steve Smith and Co had a fantastic opportunity to force the issue on day two by taking, let's say a 100-run lead, but could only manage to move ahead of India's first innings total by 48 runs, losing six wickets in the bargain. There were 47 runs scored in 29 overs in the morning session, 76 runs in 35 overs in the post-lunch session and 74 runs in another 26 overs in the session after tea. India's bowling was disciplined and accurate and didn't allow the batsmen to score as freely as they would have wanted to, it perhaps would not be an exaggeration to say that at a point of time Australia's slow scoring rate reminded one of the blockathon that England's Alastair Cook and Haseeb Hameed indulged in during their second innings in the Vizag Test last year, scoring 75 runs in a bit more than 50 overs.
While some experts explained Australia's sedate approach in terms of a strategy to wear the Indians down, what can't be denied is that the hosts did bowl to a plan. There were a lot of cracks on the wicket, which is exactly what you want as a bowler to get sharp bounce and movement. There were indeed occasions when the ball jumped up after hitting one of the cracks. Then there were occasions when the ball was keeping low. There was also a rough created outside the left-handers' leg stump at one of the ends for the Indian spinners to target. And India's premier bowler Ravichandran Ashwin was, therefore, trying to pitch the ball outside the leg-stump of the left-handed Australian openers - David Warner and Matt Renshaw - and spin the ball away. Ashwin bowled a full to good length, similar to what the eight-wicket hero Nathan Lyon bowled during India's innings.
The delivery that dismissed Warner would be any off-spinner's dream. The ball pitched outside leg, and spun viciously to flatten Warner's off stump. One could say the Australian opener made the mistake of exposing all three stumps and not covering the turn, but it was a gem of a delivery from Ashwin.
Ravindra Jadeja then gave Australia a mighty blow by sending back Australian captain and centurion from the last match Steve Smith cheaply. He then foxed Renshaw in the second session to have him stumped and Ashwin pulled off a fine tumbling catch off Jadeja's bowling to get rid of Peter Handscomb, who was just starting to look dangerous, having played a few lofted attacking shots to the fence. Kohli perhaps missed a trick by giving Jadeja only 16 overs in the day, though he was the pick of the bowlers with three wickets.
The hosts could have had a few more wickets, had Wriddhiman Saha held on to a tough chance and another one not dropped a touch short of Kohli. The Indian pacers Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav were bowling with a lot of heart and accuracy. The variable bounce that Umesh was getting was causing extra problems for the batsmen.
Where the Australian batsmen must be credited, however, was that they were able to weather the storm. Renshaw notched up another half century to go with the one in Pune. Shaun Marsh also hit a handy 66, though he led a charmed life. He was rapped on the pads by Umesh when he was on 44. A huge appeal followed and Marsh was given out on the field. However, he went for a review and was saved as replays suggested that the impact was outside the off stump. Then Ishant rapped him on the pads again, and it looked worthy of a shout, but the bowler had overstepped.
Marsh subsequently brought up a fifty-run stand with wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, before he was finally prised out by Umesh. Three fifty-run partnerships (Warner-Renshaw, Renshaw-Shaun Marsh and Shaun Marsh-Wade) meant that the Australians fought hard, putting a price on their wickets and the Indian bowlers had to buy their scalps. It was without doubt a hard-fought day of Test cricket, if not always conforming to the textbook.
India's use of DRS is still to improve though, and on Sunday too, they wasted a few reviews unnecessarily. Captain Kohli is still making the mistake of relying on his bowlers too much while taking the call for a review and one can't emphasise enough the need for him to rely more on the close-in catchers and the 'keeper Saha instead, and most of all, trust his own judgment if he is in a position to take one.
What India now need is to try and take the remaining Australian wickets as early as possible on Day 3 and not let the visitors take too big a lead. If India can keep the visitors' lead to anything under 100, they should give themselves a pat on the back. It would give the Indian batsmen some leverage to wield their willows and first, wipe out the deficit and then put up a challenging target. Even a score of 200 would not be easy for Australia to chase on the deteriorating last-day pitch in the fourth innings.
Australia, for their part, would want to stretch the lead to beyond 100. They would take heart from the fact that Starc is still at the crease. After his exploits with the bat in Pune, you would expect him to score some quick and handy runs. With him is Wade, who has a couple of Test centuries and is as good a batsman as anybody.
One knew at the start of day two of the Bengaluru Test that it was going to be an extremely crucial 90 overs that would have a profound bearing on the match and the series as a whole. The question was, could India have stemmed the rot that had set in at Pune, and also whether Australia will be able to carry on their dominance. By putting up a much-improved show, the Indian bowlers ensured that India will be still alive in the match and the series when the teams take the field on Monday.