India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai, 4th day February 25, 2013

Spinners put India on verge of win


Australia 232 for 9 (Henriques 75*, Ashwin 5-90) lead India 572 (Dhoni 224, Kohli 107, Tendulkar 81, Pattinson 5-96) by 40 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Showing enough good sense and simplicity of method to put his more experienced team-mates to considerable shame, Moises Henriques granted Australia a stay of execution and a narrow lead after four days of the first Test in Chennai. India seemed certain to wrap up the match for most of the day, until Henriques and Nathan Lyon formed the most substantial stand of the tourists' innings with the last wicket available.

Until that point MS Dhoni and R Ashwin had been the day's dominant figures, torturing Australia with the bat and then the ball. Michael Clarke's men were left with a familiar set of questions about why their bowlers could not extract similar results from a dustbowl, and why the majority of their batsmen had no workable method against the spinning, spitting ball.

Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh and Ravindra Jadeja all posed different questions, their triumvirate proving complimentary as the former's prancing bounce contrasted with the latter's sharp spin. Harbhajan provided something in between, bowling better than at any previous point in the match. All took advantage of the lead handed to them by Dhoni's brilliantly brutal 224, which helped take the hosts' innings well past 550 in the morning.

Before Henriques, Australia's batting carried the mentally weary tone of cricketers driven to distraction by Dhoni's innings. Only Phillip Hughes and the captain, Michael Clarke, could rightly say they had been beaten by the unplayable. The rest were suffocated by accurate slow bowling that was never challenged for any length of time by a batsman sure of his technique and tactics, until Henriques strode to within 25 runs of a defiant debut century.

Ed Cowan, Shane Watson and David Warner all squandered starts, a major sin on a subcontinental surface given the fact that some were always likely to receive a ghastly delivery early, as happened to Hughes against Jadeja, and Clarke against Ashwin.

How different things appeared when India's innings resumed. Dhoni was ninth out for 224, not only the highest score by an Indian wicketkeeper but the highest by an Indian captain, having taken his stand with Bhuvneshwar Kumar to 140 runs with a handful of further impudent blows against Australia's strung out bowling attack.

James Pattinson defeated Dhoni with a bouncer that India's captain gloved behind while trying to hook, and deservedly claimed his fifth wicket. He was Australia's only sustained threat with the ball across the innings. Nathan Lyon's figures of 3 for 215 were among the most expensive recorded by an Australian bowler in a Test, and unlike Jason Krejza he did not have eight wickets to show for it.

Watson opened due to Warner's bout of gastro, and hoisted one six from Harbhajan as lunch drew near, but off the final ball of the morning popped a catch up to slip from glove or bat handle as he prodded forward, Ashwin rewarded for his line and bounce. Cowan fought his way through but appeared highly vulnerable to Jadeja's left-arm spin, the ball fizzing out of the rough with three short-leg fielders sweating on any deflections from glove or inside edge.

The afternoon began with Cowan and Warner in stolid occupation, eschewing most shots and essentially trying to survive on a surface offering treacherous turn and bounce to skilful-enough purveyors of spin. They appeared to be getting somewhere at 64 for 1, but Cowan's closed-face push to midwicket was to cost him when a quicker, straighter delivery from Ashwin beat the bat and pinned him in front of middle. Cowan was angered, thinking perhaps that he had been given out caught at silly point, but the lbw looked adjacent enough.

Hughes was immediately confronted by Jadeja's sharp spin, and completed a most unhappy match when a ball spat devilishly out of a foothole and lobbed from glove to slip as the batsman tried in vain to take evasive action. Clarke walked to the middle with his side in a hole as mental as it was empirical, and at least tried to give the spinners something to ponder by using his feet.

Ashwin was drop-kicked for six over wide long-on then pulled to the boundary next ball as he adjusted his length, a rare moment of Australian poise against the spinning ball. However at the other end Jadeja's geometry twice appeared to pin Clarke in between wicket and wicket. The umpire Marais Erasmus remained inscrutable to the appeals.

Warner became the third Australian to squander a start when he propped forward to Harbhajan and was given lbw after a tangle of pad and bat. Warner stood aghast when Kumar Dharmasena's finger was raised, but replays again showed a ball pitching in line and straightening to strike the pad an instant before the bat. In the absence of the DRS, an advantage seemingly lies with the team able to forge ahead then place pressure on the umpires - no-one did this better than the Australians in their pomp.

Wade accompanied Clarke briefly, but was another to appear unnerved by the breadth of spin and changeability of bounce available, and was bowled attempting a presumptuous sweep at Harbhajan. Clarke and Henriques reached the interval with only the merest hope of doing anything but reduce the margin of defeat.

That hope shrunk moments after resumption, when Clarke was struck on the back pad just in front of off stump by a ball that barely bounced. Clarke's rueful expression was matched among Australia's coaching staff at the boundary's edge, as the rest of the innings followed the familiar pattern.

Obituaries were being written by the time Lyon reached the wicket, but he and Henriques in their quiet way managed to exploit tired bowlers much as Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar had done the previous evening. Unless a miracle is to be performed on day five, this will only cause Australia's batsmen to wonder at how they might have done better.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Hitesh on February 26, 2013, 15:28 GMT

    Time for more SPIN music as opposed to Aussie's CHIN music back in Australia. I hope Aussies will continue to dance to more of this spin music

  • John on February 26, 2013, 9:36 GMT

    @Jono Makim / Moppa / thanks for the feedback guys. I see you all seem to agree on O Keefe. Doherty's stats in tests are actually worse than I thought. Must be doing plenty at domestic level? I see (unless I clicked on the wrong tab) you have both Smith and Maxwell in the squad which starts to look more like a shorter formats squad

  • Manesh on February 26, 2013, 6:04 GMT

    @Herath-UK. Funny to see a SL fan complaining about spinning tracks in India. You cannot be more hilarious than this!!

  • Graham on February 26, 2013, 4:41 GMT

    Why all the negativity from Australian supporters. A tour of India was always going to be a hard proposition for us because of the contrast in conditions. Even the great side from 93-2007 had trouble with these conditions. If you look at a different scenario say when India was 8/400 (lead of around 20) and B Kumar flicked that catch to Cowan. Lets sa y that catch was taken and number 11 rolled like a number 11 should be and suddenly India only have a lead say under 40. Completely different game at this point. We were not too far away and all our players are still adjusting to the conditions. They would never have played a practice match or found a practise wicket like this. It was just two hours of Dhoni after they were 8 down that took this game away from us and there is plenty of improvement to come. I think it all goes well for an interesting series.

  • N on February 26, 2013, 4:25 GMT

    The pitch isn't up to minimum test standard. It is joke to suggest otherwise - batsmen shouldn't be hit in the head by a well pitched up ball by a spinner?!

    I'm not saying it was a necessarily a deliberate fix because India have superior spinners, but just that it doesn't meet any reasonable standard. Although I do think that if the same had happened in Australia, then Indians would be crying 'cheat' as they do that a LOT.

    Quibbles about Aussie pitches are wrong - they vary between places and are generally consistent over time. No-one toned down the WACA when SA came to visit with their fast bowlers.

    Bowlers aside, the big difference was the freak innings of Dhoni (freak in a good way). These things happen once in a career and was a big factor.

    Oh, and the bizarre mothballing of Pattinson when he had bowled 2 in 3 overs in India's first innings...

  • Dummy4 on February 26, 2013, 4:15 GMT

    If the last pair survive the first hour, then we are in for a spectacle. You can never say that it is over until it is over. The longer the pair bat the more spiteful will be the Indians and chances for more and more errors. Let us wait and see.

  • Cric on February 26, 2013, 4:05 GMT

    Match is not over yet and Aus still have 1 wick, you can never bet on Indian bowling. I dont know why Aus fans are blaming the pitch, will it be the same comments if Australia would have had an upper hand?. I thought Aussies are tough guys but this shows Aussies are going to bow for Indian spinners for the rest of the series. Remember Eng won the series after losing the first test, this series can be intersting if Aus drop 1 Fast(Starc) and bring one spinner to their side. If a pitch is good for 5 days to play then the pitch is good enough.

  • TR on February 26, 2013, 3:37 GMT

    Any pitch which takes the match to 4+ days is a good pitch be it green/red/grey/hard/soft. Also any pitch where both teams have individual scores of 50+, tons, double tons, 5-fors, has got to be fair pitch. Why cant other batsmen play like Clarke or Dhoni or Kholi or Henriques? Why cant other bowlers bowl like Ashwin or Pattinson? It is foolish to blame the pitch in above even results.

  • Mick on February 26, 2013, 3:37 GMT

    A good deal of talk about Australia should follow that English blueprint. Based on the myth that England adapted so quickly after losing the first Test. When in reality they played 6 Tests in spinning conditions in 12 months (losing 5) before getting it right. Don't get me wrong, England were fantastic in India, but it took a lot of pastings against spin before it eventuated.