Bengaluru's M Chinnaswamy stadium has not been a happy hunting ground for India in Tests as an anaemic record of six wins in 21 matches would suggest. And on Saturday, on day one of the second Test of the series against Australia, India's struggles on this ground continued. After the humiliation in Pune, they were again undone by spin, on a pitch that was nowhere as spiteful as the one in Pune, and find themselves tottering on the edge already.
India had the advantage of making first use of the wicket, that was expected to have runs in it. However, whether as a result of an abject surrender by the Indian batsmen, or top class bowling by Australia, or indeed a mixture of both, the hosts blew the advantage that they got by winning the toss and electing to bat. They were bundled out for a paltry 189, with Nathan Lyon virtually running through the Indian line-up with career-best figures of 8/50. In the process, Lyon also surpassed former South African pacer Lance Klusener to register the best bowling figures by an overseas bowler in India.
Only KL Rahul offered some resistance with an innings of 90 which he called "by far the most difficult" innings that he had had to play in Tests, given that the wicket "was not the easiest to play on". The wicket was a bit sticky in the morning compared to how it played in the other two sessions, the ball was holding on to the wicket and it was two-paced a little bit," said Rahul.
However, it would be difficult to believe that the wicket was harder to bat on than the one in Pune. And then when it was Australia's turn to bat, the visitors stroked their way to a very comfortable 40/0 at the close of play. What clearly came across was a lack of application on the part of the Indian batsmen, as was the case in Pune. What came across was the mistake on the part of the best batsman in the side to gauge the turn and getting caught in front of the stumps, playing for the turn when there was not there. What came across again was some pretty ordinary fielding, with Ajinkya Rahane dropping David Warner. It begs the question if India had learnt their lessons from the rout in Pune.
Australia, on the otehr hand, are going through a dream time in India. When the lead spinners of the side are hunting in pair on a subcontinent pitch and competing with each other over the spoils, taking a bucketful of wickets, it must be bad news for the opposition. And it has proved to be so in the series thus far. So if it was Steve O'Keefe donning the role of destructor-in-chief in Pune, his strike partner Lyon wore that hat in Bengaluru, with O'Keefe supporting him to a nicety. Sadly for the Indian batsmen, it meant they were laid to waste.
Australia now are just 149 runs behind in the first innings with all their wickets intact. A number of their batsmen are in good nick, with captain Steve Smith fresh from a sublime century in Pune and Matt Renshaw and Mitchell Starc having handy runs under their belts. Warner and Mitch Marsh also had starts in Pune. What the visitors should do is to bat the entire day on day two and put a big score on the board. If they can even add 270-275 runs in their 90 overs on Sunday, the lead would be well over a hundred.
Australia hold all the aces in the Test already and a lead of 100-120 on the second day could be invaluable. They can then carry on the next day and may be give themselves a lead of 350-375 runs to bowl India out. They can really force the issue now by batting long not only on day two, but even deep into day three. Clearly, the Australian bowlers have done their batsmen a great service by packing India off quickly on the first day of the Test itself, which has taken the pressure of time off their shoulders.
Now the Australian batsmen have to pace their innings and set up the game. What they would want to do is avoid batting last on a pitch that is not going to get any better from hereon. So the prescription for Australia would be to drive home the advantage on day two by batting long and taking a healthy lead. Day two would be extremely crucial in the context of this match and if Australia can play to plan on Sunday, they would have taken themselves to a position from where the match would be theirs to lose.
India have to stop the flow of runs on day two by all means and take wickets. They can still bounce back in this match, but the sub-200 score in the first innings threatens to be their bane, and a progressively deteriorating wicket and the performance of the Indian batsmen so far in the series don't really inspire confidence that the hosts would score 350 in the second innings to save themselves.