Pune: On an extraordinary day, Australia dramatically took control of what is turning out to be an absorbing contest against all odds by beating India at their own game. At stumps, Steven Smith had completed a lucky half-century to take Australia to 143/4, thereby extending the overall lead to 298 runs on Day 2 of the Pune Test.
19 wickets fell during the day and there could have been more had the Indian fielders held on to the chances that came their way. The day belonged to Australia and their unheralded left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe whose dramatic spell in the post lunch session put India on way to their worst ever collapse in Test cricket. In the space of 25 balls, O’Keefe took six wickets as India crashed to 105 all out in their first innings.
Smith was dropped thrice, twice off the bowling of R Ashwin and went on to score an unbeaten half-century to steer Australia to a commanding position. This was after R Ashwin trapped David Warner lbw in the first over of Australia’s second innings and then removed Shaun Marsh for a 21-ball duck. Smith then steadied the innings and eventually put Australia on the ascendancy, stitching solid partnerships with Peter Handscomb, Matt Renshaw and Mitchell Marsh. At the close of play, Smith was unbeaten on 59 while Mitchell Marsh was batting on 48.
O’Keefe returned career-best figures of 6/35 as India lost their last seven wickets for just 11 runs. The 32-year-old ran through Indian line-up like a hot knife through butter. And it all began when he changed ends in the 33rd over. It turned out to be quite a move as in it, he picked three wickets to leave India reeling at 95/6. The slide began with the wicket of KL Rahul who charged forward to O’Keefe to be caught for 64. It was a poor shot to say the least as he batted well to complete a half-century. Ajinkya Rahane was then caught brilliantly by Handscomb at second slip for 13. Wriddhiman Saha inexplicably poked at a delivery to get an outside edge and was sent back for a two-ball duck.
India though still had hopes with Ashwin and Jayant Yadav. Those hopes were dashed when Handscomb caught Ashwin for 1 off Nathan Lyon. Ashwin offered a defensive shot but the ball bounced off his boot and flew to the right of short leg fielder where Handscomb completed an excellent one-handed diving catch. O’Keefe went on to complete a maiden five-wicket haul in Test cricket with the scalps of Jayant and Ravindra Jadeja. Umesh Yadav became his sixth victim with India being bundled out inside 42 overs.
Nobody would have anticipated such a dramatic turn of events after an absorbing morning session when Mitchell Starc made telling blows in a testy spell that saw India lose their most prolific batsmen this home season in the space of three deliveries. Cheteshwar Pujara attempted to fend off a snorter but gloved it to the wicketkeeper Matthew Wade for an easy catch. A delivery later, India captain Virat Kohli was sent back for a duck as he chased after a wide delivery to edge it to Handscomb at first slip.
This was after Ashwin got rid of Starc for 61, caught by Jadeja at midwicket with Australia being all out for 260 in their first dig.
Likewise India, Australia also shared the new ball between a pacer (Starc) and spinner (O’Keefe). But it was the first change Josh Hazlewood who made the first impact, inducing an outside edge from Murali Vijay (10) that was caught by the ‘keeper.
Both Starc and Hazlewood found their rhythm early on, bowling a tight line and consistently landing the ball in areas that were enough to create doubts in the minds of India batsmen.
When Starc returned for a second spell, he produced an excellent short delivery that climbed onto Pujara and the result was a catch to the wicketkeeper. His departure brought in-form Kohli but he lasted two deliveries after being out caught at first slip with Australians breaking into wild celebrations.
Rahul showed intent and wasn’t averse to hitting the big shots when on offer. Even though he was beaten on several occasions, it didn’t mean he was going to be perturbed. He did well to see off that nervy phase and whenever there was an opportunity, he found the boundary. In fact, his first of the seven fours came in the first over, bowled by Starc. He scored at least one boundary against all the bowlers with O’Keefe being hit for a six. That he wasn’t going to hold out was clear when he reverse swept Lyon for four. Little did he know that his wicket would put Australia in complete control of the Test.
Brief Scores: Australia 260 and 143/4 (Steve Smith 59*; R Ashwin 3/68) lead India105 (KL Rahul 64; Steve O’Keefe 6/35) by 298 runs