Seven and a half overs. Seven wickets. 11 runs. 94 for three to 105 all out. When you fall from a great height, you hit the ground with a loud bang.
India have swept away all competition has come before them in home conditions for more than four years. The last time they lost a Test match in India was against England in late 2012. Since then they have beaten West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England and Bangladesh in series on home soil. Their dominance has been so total that no one was expecting the somewhat haphazard Australian batting to hold up under the microscope of Ravichandran Ashwin’s off-spin.
Somehow Australia managed to get 260 on the board on a pitch that spat and spun from the first ball. Runs from Matt Renshaw and Mitchell Starc on the first day took Australia to a total that gave them a chance. No one thought that it put them in a winning position. As India reached lunch on day two at 70-3, Australia weren’t totally out of it. But India would still have been confident of matching their first innings score, and hopeful of passing it. India had lost both Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli in one Starc over, but the rest of their in-form batting lineup are more than capable of scoring runs on this kind of pitch.
India had taken the score to 94 for three when Steve O’Keefe changed ends and changed his fortunes. In his four Test matches to date he had taken 14 wickets at a reasonable average of 32, but many questioned his place in the team — not least Australia’s greatest spinner who was watching from the commentary box. Shane Warne has never been an O’Keefe fan.
O’Keefe set off the collapse with three wickets in one over, and the first of those was the innings top-scorer. KL Rahul had a big dart at O’Keefe, looking to hit him over long-off for six. It was a bizarre shot that was all the more questionable as he was struggling with a shoulder injury. David Warner did the catching in the deep as Rahul’s dismissal for 64 began a remarkable collapse that saw all-conquering India hoist by their own petard.
Two balls later, Ajinkya Rahane was edging the ball to second slip where Peter Hanscomb took a fantastic diving catch. Two balls after that, Wriddhiman Saha was giving a catch to Steve Smith at first slip. 94 for three became 94 for six.
Nathan Lyon picked up the wicket of Ashwin when the batsman edged on to his boot to give another catch to Handscomb, who was electric close to the bat. O’Keefe picked up the last three wickets to finish with a career best 6 for 35. His spell after he changed ends was 4.1 overs, five runs for six wickets.
India’s dramatic demise came from an unfancied second spinner that has hardly played Test cricket. The reason for that was this pitch. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a surface that spins, it makes the cricket fascinating and fast paced. But it is a poor tactic for India. It evens things up for the opposition spinners.
On a standard Indian track, Ashiwn and Ravindra Jadeja comfortably out-bowl the opposition spinners. On a pitch that is a spitting cobra-pit it gives the opposition spinners, who are less familiar with these conditions, a chance to run through their team. We saw that when England ripped through India with Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, and we saw it again with O’Keefe’s wonderful spell.
India conceded a first innings lead of 155. From here there are two possibilities — India lose or pull of a miracle that will make atheists question their stance on the almighty. Realistically, India needed to bowl Australia out in the evening session of the second day to have a hope of chasing a fourth innings target on a pitch that has not deteriorated as fast as some feared, but one that certainly isn’t getting any better.
Warner played a very Warner innings, scoring 10 runs from the first five balls of the innings before being dismissed on the sixth, and Shaun Marsh fell for the eighth duck of his Test career to leave Australia 23 for two. At that point India would have been hopeful of running through Australia, but even small contributions from the Australian batsmen would be enough to put this game out of their reach. Runs for Smith and Renshaw took Australia’s lead to 268 before their partnerships was broken. That would be the highest score of the match, the chances of doing that batting last on a testing surface are remote.
Smith, who has a Test average of over 60, continued to show what he is capable of in any conditions, but India had enough chances to dismiss him. He was dropped three times on his way to 59 not out. When you concede a lead of 155, you can’t then put down the best batsmen in the opposition side thrice.
India looked off the boil on the first day, come the second the pot had been knocked on to the floor and the family dog was feasting on the contents. They have not had a day as bad as this in Test cricket in a long time. The 105 they made in their first innings is their lowest total at home since they were bowled out for 76 by South Africa’s Dale Steyn in 2008. They were terrible in Pune on Friday; perhaps the long string of Tests over a short period of time has began to tell its toll.
That is not to take anything away from Australia, who were ruthless once they had India trailing in this match. At the close of day two, their lead is 298 and they have the power to add to that. After nine consecutive defeats in Asia, Australia look like pulling off a remarkable win that no one was expecting.