India ended day two on 120/1 in response to Australia's 451 all out in the first innings. The hosts have one man to thank for the relatively happy position: Ravindra Jadeja, whose marathon 49.3 overs earned him five wickets for just 124, at a cost of 2.5 runs per over, on a day when his three bowling mates were visibly undercooked.
Barring brief periods, neither Umesh Yadav nor Ishant Sharma with pace, nor Ravichandran Ashwin with off spin, brought their A game; the Indians were lethargic, shockingly so at times with Ishant responsible for missing two run out opportunities, once by not backing up for the throw from the deep, the other time lobbing the ball in from the outfield when the need was for a sharp, flat throw.
These were danger signs for India given the ease with which the imperturbable Steve Smith and the impressive Glenn Maxwell played; Maxwell noticeably reining in his impetuous strokeplay, batting down tempo and playing his role in a 191-run partnership that took Australia from a dodgy position to one from where they could look to dominate. The other noticeable aspect of the Australian innings was the ability to bat in partnerships thanks to shrewd shepherding by Steve Smith - the Aussies had six different 50-run partnerships, including two after the fall of Maxwell, the first a racy 64-run stand involving Matthew Wade, then a controlled 51-run partnership in which Steve O'Keefe played the supporting role to Smith, who was magisterial in his unbeaten 178 off 361, in course of which he batted in his own patented style while eight partners came and went at the other end.
India responded very well, with KL Rahul carrying on with his form in this series with yet another 50-plus knock, his fourth of the series and third in succession. Rahul stroked with ease, his innings marked by his use of the crease and his impeccable play on both sides of the wicket off the back foot. Murali Vijay played the way he likes best - calm, controlled, well within himself, not looking to hit; the standout feature of his unbeaten knock being his almost compulsive use of the sweep against Nathan Lyon bowling around the wicket into the rough outside leg stump.
The scene-stealer, however, was Pat Cummins, coming back into the side after a wait of five years and 64 Tests, and almost picking up from where he left off in his debut Test in 2011. Cummins showed no sign of the injuries that had kept him out for those long years; no sign either of any rust, which was remarkable considering he came into this Test on the back of a single first class game. He was fast, he ran the gamut of possibilities with the ball, using every length from the yorker to the short ball and every line from the sixth stump to the base of middle, his constant changes to line, pace and length keeping the batsmen always on the edge.
The post-tea spell in particular was a masterclass in working batsmen out - he made the batsmen play by angling in to off, beat them with pace with deliveries straightening outside off, bounced them just often enough to ensure the they did not play him by rote as they did Hazlewood, and he took out Rahul with a beauty, getting pace and lift off the line around off stump, making the ball come in just enough to follow Rahul as the batsman shaped to leave, and finding the glove through to the wicketkeeper.
The pitch has remained decent. There is some turn and bounce, as there has been throughout the day, but it is nothing alarming; there is the odd ball keeping low, but again, only off one spot which the batsman appear to have worked out. Conditions remain suitable for batting, if you are willing to grind it out. India has time on their hands and if they bats time, can get back into this game. It is all set for an opening session on Day 3 that could pretty much dictate the direction of this Test.
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Updated Date: Mar 17, 2017 17:38:36 IST