Day One: Australia 316/7 with Michael Clarke on 103 and Peter Siddle on 1. R Ashwin took 6/88.
Australia’s struggles against spin continued, with R Ashwin picking up his sixth five-wicket haul in Tests, but Michael Clarke made yet another hundred, and together with Moises Henriques staged a fightback to give the visitors a slight edge at the end of the first day in Chennai.
On a dry Chepauk pitch, Ashwin threatened from his very first over and took all five wickets as Australia slumped to 153 for 5. But Henriques showed remarkable composure on this debut to keep his captain company, adding 151 for the sixth wicket to revive Australian hopes before falling to Ashwin for 68.
Australia got off to a quick start thanks to David Warner and Ed Cowan, the pair adding 64 before Cowan uncharacteristically tried to smash Ashwin out of the ground and was stumped. Phillip Hughes lasted just 15 balls before chopping Ashwin on to his stumps before Shane Watson and Warner took Australia to lunch.
The pair looked untroubled before the break but Ashwin struck in his first over after the restart, trapping Watson lbw. He followed that up with the wickets of Warner and Matthew Wade, also lbw, before Clarke and Henriques resurrected the innings. India picked up two more wickets in the last 20 minutes of play, but they will rue the missed opportunity to bring a swift end to Australia’s innings on a pitch that is expected to deteriorate further.
Michael Clarke won the toss and had no hesitation in batting first. The big talking point was India surprisingly leaving out Pragyan Ohja, their best spinner in the England series, opting to go with Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Harbhajan Singh, who became just the 10th Indian cricketer to play his 100th Test. Australia gave Moises Henriques his debut and in contrast to the home side, went in with four seam options and one spinner.
Australia got off to a quick start on a dry Chepauk pitch before R Ashwin pulled them back with a couple of wickets, but the visitors will be pleased with the first session as they went into lunch at 126/2, with David Warner on 58 and Shane Watson on 28.
Australia struggled against spin in the warm-up games but Warner and Ed Cowan had no trouble against the seamers. They took a couple of overs to settle down against Bhuvaneshwar and Ishant Sharma, the former being given the new ball on his debut, before going on the attack. Both seamers were guilty of bowling too straight, especially Ishant, who was taken for 13 runs in his second over – with Cowan pulling him and then driving him straight down the ground for four. He was promptly replaced by Harbhajan in just the fifth over.
Dhoni kept Bhuvneshwar on for a couple more overs, and he was able to extract some seam movement, beating Warner a few times, but the pitch screamed out for spin and Ashwin was brought on in the ninth over.
He immediately had the batsmen searching for the ball, and should have had Warner, who was on 18, in his first over but Virender Sehwag dropped a sharp chance at first slip. That life didn’t stop the batsmen from being aggressive though, with Warner cutting Harbhajan to the cover boundary to bring up Australia’s 50 in just 10 overs.
Both batsmen were looking to use their feet and while Harbhajan often strayed down the legside, allowing Cowan to sweep him for four, Ashwin was causing plenty of problems. Bowling at a slower pace and with more loop than he did against England, Ashwin almost had Warner a second time when he beat him in flight but the ball spat from the pitch to hit Dhoni on the shoulder and the chance was gone.
Australia had talked about attacking India’s spinner and Cowan demonstrated that by skipping down the pitch and lifting Harbhajan for a sumptuous straight six. But he fell in the next over trying to repeat the stroke against Ashwin. This one was tossed up a little more and the ball dipped and turned past the outside edge. Dhoni was prepared for the bounce and nonchalantly removed the stumps to end the opening stand at 64. Cowan’s 29 came from 45 balls, and included 4 fours and a six.
Phillip Hughes looked completely at sea in his short stay, which ended when he chopped one from Ashwin onto his stumps. Dhoni brought Ishant back for one over searching for reverse swing, but it was a short-lived experiment.
Watson showed plenty of intent, punishing anything short from Ravindra Jadeja or Ashwin while Warner grew more comfortable and reached his sixth half-century a couple of overs before lunch. By the interval, both batsmen looked settled and India’s spinners, in particular Harbhajan, will want to rethink their approach.
At tea, Australia were 215 for 5, with Clarke on 45 and Henriques on 29
R Ashwin rewarded Mahendra Singh Dhoni for his faith with a sustained spell of high quality spin bowling either side of lunch as Australia wasted a good start to the first Test go to into tea at 215 for 5. Ashwin was retained in the side while Pragyan Ojha was dropped despite having a better series against England. But Ashwin showed he had learned from that series by concentrating on bowling the offbreak and varying his pace and trajectory to pick up his sixth five-wicket haul in just his 13th Test.
Having removed Ed Cowan and Phillip Hughes before lunch, Ashwin struck three times in the first hour after the interval. Shane Watson had looked threatening in accumulating 28 but had no time to settle in as Ashwin slipped in a quicker delivery that caught him plumb in front in his first over after the break.
He repeated the dose against Warner, who was rooted on the back foot to one that was pitched up and couldn’t get his bat down in time. Mathew Wade at no 6 showed their lack of batting depth – how dearly Australia must have wished it was Michael Hussey instead – but he looked at ease early on, even punching Ashwin between cover and mid-off when he dropped short.
Ashwin would have the last laugh though, getting one to slide past Wade’s inside edge from around the wicket and straighten just enough to get the lbw decision from umpire Kumar Dharmasena. At that stage, Australia had lost 3 for 27 since lunch and were tottering at 153 for 5.
Ashwin even had Clarke feeling and searching for the ball early on as he varied his pace and flight, forcing Clarke to use his feet to try and smother the ball.
However, India’s other two spinners did not pose the same threat. While Jadeja was still able to keep things quiet, Harbhajan was mostly too short with his length and occasionally too straight, allowing the batsmen too many scoring opportunities. The gap in their performances was evident from the scoreboard. Ashwin had 5 for 51. The other two, 0 for 114.
Moises Henriques – on his debut – showed a calm temperament and with Ashwin being given a break after injuring his finger, built a partnership with his captain, who had weathered the early storm and started to assert himself against the other spinners, going past 7000 Test runs in the process. He used his feet to drive Jadeja for four either side of the wicket, forcing Dhoni to bring back Ishant and search for reverse swing.
Clarke was given a reprieve of his own when Ashwin returned and immediately went up for a huge appeal for a bat-pad catch against Clarke. Dharmasena turned it down, but replays showed the ball had come off the inside edge before ballooning to short leg.
Bhuvneshwar replaced Ishant and Clarke greeted him with a classic cover drive, swelling the partnership with Henriques to 62 on the stroke of tea.
Having steadied the ship after the loss of three quick wickets, Clarke and Henriques set about resurrecting the innings after tea. Clarke showed why he is Australia’s best player of spin, lifting Ashwin for six to reach his half-century in the first over after the break.
At the other end, Henriques quietly went about his business in an unobtrusive manner. There were no flashy shots or ambitious heaves, just quiet accumulation, but he still punished the bad ball whenever the opportunity presented itself. So impressive was his batting that Clarke was moved to walk down the pitch and shake his hand when they had added 100 runs together.
Dhoni typically retreated into defensive mode once Clarke and Henriques scored a few quick runs after tea. That allowed the pair to accumulate without pressure and forced Dhoni to turn to the new ball despite the wicket offering almost no help for the seamers. The harder ball quickly disappeared to the boundary, as Clarke cut and flicked Ishant for four, and both players drove Kumar through the offside with ease.
Dhoni went back spin and Henriques eventually succumbed to temptation, trying the slog sweep against Ashwin. He missed, the ball hit pad and the umpire raised his finger. Starc followed soon after, bowled by a straight one from Jadeja.
Clarke appeared anxious to get to his hundred, charging down the track multiple times to Jadeja but was unable to pierce the cordon of close-in fielders. Eventually, he reached his milestone two overs later, when he lofted Jadeja over mid-off for four, then immediately thrust both arms into the air in celebration.
Jadeja pitched in with the wicket of Mitchell Starc, but for the most part the rest of the Indian bowlers looked pedestrian. Harbhajan Singh, playing his 100th Test, was too short and often too straight, while Ravindra Jadeja lacked penetration against the top order. The two fast bowlers, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvnashwer Kumar, were limited by the pitch, and though there was a hint of reverse swing with the old ball, were dealt with comfortably by the Australian batsmen.