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Australia collapse yet again before late-order resistance

- ASHWIN CLAIMS FOUR ON DAY I KOTLA PITCH RAISES EYEBROWS

New Delhi: There was no dramatic change in the script for the Australians at the Kotla on Friday. Like in the three previous Tests, the visitors’ struggle continued, leaving India with an upper hand at the end of Day I of the fourth Test.

With the visitors finishing the day at 231 for eight after electing to bat, speculation was rife if the curtains would come down on the fourth day itself! Though the Australian lower-order displayed a far better approach than their top-order batsmen, it was still not enough to stage a turnaround.

The situation, however, could have been brighter for India. But like in Mohali, here too, the Australian tailenders frustrated the Indian bowlers.

The Australians were reeling at 153 for seven at tea, but in the next session, India could take only one wicket. While Steven Smith (46) and Peter Siddle (47 batting) put on 53 runs for the eighth wicket, another 42 came from Siddle and James Pattinson (11 batting) during their unfinished ninth wicket partnership.

Smith looked good but was dismissed by a good delivery from Ashwin. It beat Smith and took the inside edge for a catch to debutant Ajinkya Rahane at short leg.

Doubts grew over the pitch and its two-paced nature. VVS Laxman said during commentary that it looked like a practice wicket after being used for three days.

But a close look would show how the Australian top-order had only themselves to blame for the mess. While the Indian bowlers did bowl intelligently, some batsmen, captain Shane Watson included, could have avoided risky shots.

No doubt, a few odd balls did surprise the batsmen. In the 21st over, the third delivery from Ishant Sharma rose awkwardly to hit Phillip Hughes on the helmet. A few more similar stuff could have led to a major injury.

Three balls later, he tentatively poked at a delivery and was played on. It was a huge blow for the Australians as Hughes looked set for a big score. His 45 off 59 balls was studded with 10 fine boundaries.

That the pitch was no villain could be gauged from the fact that Smith and Siddle played comfortably for the eighth wicket after Australia were reduced to 136 for seven before tea. More importantly, the duo frustrated the rampaging Indian bowlers for more than 25 overs.

Smith, however, described the wicket a difficult track to bat. “It was not a first day wicket,” he said, adding that another 50 runs to the Australian total could make the match competitive.

In fact, the Australians applied themselves better at the start of the innings, despite losing opener David Warner in the second over of the day to Ishant Sharma. At 94 for two at lunch, stand-in captain Watson’s decision to bat looked correct.

The Indians struck back in the post-lunch session. Between lunch and tea, Australia lost five more wickets adding only 59 runs in this period. Two spinners — Ravichandran Ashwin (four for 40) and Ravindra Jadeja (2 for 32) — did exceedingly well though Pragyan Ojha struggled to get to his 100th Test wicket.

One expected Watson to be more careful while batting. He did little with the bat in the first two Tests and was forced to stay away from the third on disciplinary grounds. Back in the team as captain because of Michael Clarke’s absence, Watson curbed his natural strokeplay to score 17 off 56 balls. However, he had little reason to charge down the wicket to hit a Jadeja delivery. The ball was slightly short and turned sharply to have the batsman stumped.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s quick change of bowling also played a role in unsettling the batsmen. After Jadeja removed Watson in the 39th over, Dhoni introduced Ashwin from the same end in the next over.

After the off-spinner dismissed Mitchell Johnson, Dhoni immediately effected another change and replaced Ashwin.

While Rahane made his debut for India, Australia, because of the circumstances and injuries, were forced to make as many as five changes from the Mohali team.