Chennai: Ravichandran Ashwin’s impromptu jig after the fall of the ninth Australian wicket did come a shade early! But the off-spinner could hardly be blamed for celebrating.
Having dismissed Mitchell Starc to complete his second five-wicket haul in the Test with the visitors still 17 runs short of wiping out the 192-run deficit, it was only natural to imagine that they wouldn’t survive the remaining session on the fourth day.
But Moises Henriques and last-man Nathan Lyon held on for the next 62 minutes to push the match into the final day. In the process, Australia were ahead by 40 runs though in no way it could guarantee that their agony had ended.
At stumps, Henriques was batting on 75 while Lyon was unbeaten on 8.
With no forecast of rain, it’s only a matter of time on the final day before the Indians take a 1-0 lead in the series. With three fast bowlers in Australia’s ranks and a lone spinner, who has hardly looked threatening, even a 100-run cushion would be insufficient to turn the tables on the Indians.
Henriques, however, sounded positive. “We have not lost this Test yet. Certainly, there is lot of hope. You just do not know what will happen tomorrow,” he said at the end of the day.
“Obviously things are stacked against us at the moment. But we are going to take to the field tomorrow as the under dogs. Whether it is rain or whatever, you just never know...”
The Australians can only blame their luck for finding themselves at the wrong end of Dhoni’s superlative innings. The last two Indian wickets stretched the visitors’ humiliation for another 13.3 overs this morning as the Australians were made to fight for survival.
A positive intent was needed to ward off the challenge but the visitors succumbed to the natural variations of the wicket. Survival wasn’t easy on this dusty and uneven terrain and all the Indians needed were to pitch on the rough on both sides of the wicket.
Ashwin had described the wicket as “dirty” after the opening day, though it was later clarified that he meant it to be muddy. Dirty or not, the Australians will dread countering this sort of wickets in the rest of the three Tests.
There was sharp turn and the odd delivery just darted and jumped off the rough. Phil Hughes and David Warner fell victim to such balls and another couple of batsmen barely survived nicking them to the fielders.
Dhoni allowed his spinners prolonged spells to settle into a rhythm from the outset using Ishant Sharma for only three overs in the last half-an-hour. Ravindra Jadeja’s (2/68) trajectory and turn were disturbing as the batsmen appeared vulnerable.
Reason enough for Dhoni to give the left-arm spinner one long spell while rotating Ashwin (5/90) and Harbhajan Singh (2/55) at the other end. The spinners complemented each other and each posed hard-hitting questions which seemed beyond most of the batsmen.
David Warner didn’t open the innings because of a bout of gastroenteritis but that made no difference. Ed Cowan, Watson and Warner floundered their starts, considered a sin in these conditions, and it was left to Michael Clarke to do the rescue job for the umpteenth time.
After being dropped by Virat Kohli on nought, the Ashwin ensured that the Australian didn’t get a second reprieve when he was trapped in front trying to cut one that turned and kept low. Clarke was gone for 31 after 70 minutes.
“I was in disbelief at the other end that Michael could not get a hundred,” Henriques echoed their sentiments. Their resistance seemed to be all but over at 131 for six. How the Australians are missing one Michael Hussey at No.6! When all seemed lost, Henriques and Lyon showed resilience stitching together 57 runs for the final wicket. None of the tricks worked despite a few close shaves as they crawled to 232 for nine.
Perhaps a bit of complacency and tiredness had also crept into the attack. The spinners will certainly be better placed to make amends when the batsmen take fresh guard on Tuesday.
The wicket appeared to be playing true when Dhoni resumed this morning. Dhoni continued with his big hitting ways before being dismissed after spending 365 minutes for his 224, the highest by an Indian captain. The innings contained 24 boundaries and six sixes off 265 balls.
His ninth wicket stand with Bhuvneshwar Kumar finally yielded 140 runs in 31.1 overs with Dhoni making 103 and Kumar contributing 21.
Pattinson was amply rewarded for his efforts with a five-wicket haul when he lured Dhoni with a short delivery which the Team India captain nicked behind while trying to hook.