India inch ahead on hard-fought day
Australia 273 for 7 (Cowan 86, Warner 71, Smith 58*, Jadeja 3-56) v India
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Australia's batsmen did their homework, fought hard and showed the right attitude. Yet they found themselves nursing a manifestly inadequate first-innings total for the third Test in a row, a tally of 273 for 7 at the close looking all too anaemic on the best surface of the series in Mohali.
For most of the second day, which served as the first due to a wash out on Thursday, India's bowlers toiled without much effect. David Warner and Ed Cowan fashioned an intelligent opening stand, the recalled Steven Smith demonstrated considerable poise at No. 5, and even the flown-in Brad Haddin started his punchy innings with a straight six.
But there were too many moments of familiar inattention to allow the tourists to gain a proper toehold. All this despite the suspension of four players designed to focus the minds and actions of the squad. The captain Michael Clarke skipped presumptuously down the pitch first ball after promoting himself to No. 3, Phillip Hughes maintained his unabated Indian nightmare with a pained 31-ball stay for 2, and Cowan found similarly terminal quicksand in the 80s.
R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and the recalled Pragyan Ojha all had their moments, and on a pitch offering him the merest extra ration of pace Ishant Sharma joined them with an important old-ball spell as the shadows lengthened around a near-deserted PCA Stadium. Some quick wickets on the third morning and India will have the better part of two days to bat Australia out of the series.
Ojha's inclusion for Harbhajan Singh was one of two alterations to the Indian team victorious in Hyderabad, Virender Sehwag also dropped for the left-hand batsman Shikhar Dhawan to debut. The visitors' changes had been largely forced by the suspension of four players plus an ankle injury to Matthew Wade, leaving Haddin to come in as the wicketkeeper while Smith slotted into the top six and Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon were recalled.
Warner and Cowan walked to the middle for the earlier 9am start time, and swiftly found the pitch to be mild-mannered. Warner punched a pair of boundaries from the opening over, and regular runs were collected against a new ball that did not swing, seam or bounce to any uncomfortable degree.
The most nervous moment of the morning arrived when Warner chopped Bhuvneshwar Kumar past leg stump and to the fine leg rope, though he also mistimed a drive at Ishant Sharma that lobbed narrowly out of the tall fast man's reach and scooted to the straight boundary.
Ashwin's first over betrayed the fact that there was nothing too treacherous about the spin on offer, though Warner contrived to play and miss at three deliveries and snick another past gully. Shortly before lunch a Cowan cut, then a Warner drive, both flashed past slip, but Virat Kohli's surprised reactions reflected how safely Australia's openers had played.
They ambled on into the afternoon, playing conservatively but ticking the runs over sensibly enough, until Jadeja's move around the wicket brought a misjudgement of flight by Warner and a bat-pad catch for MS Dhoni. Clarke had conveyed his intention to take greater responsibility for guiding the innings following the Hyderabad debacle, and so walked in at the fall of the first wicket.
His body language was alert and positive, but his footwork and reading of length were found immediately wanting by Jadeja, who coaxed a dance down the pitch that resulted in a stumping for a delighted Dhoni. Hughes then scratched and scraped as though filled with dread, in an innings that only took place because Usman Khawaja had been deemed ineligible.
Hughes' exit, tentatively fiddling at a leg-side delivery from Ojha, was as unsurprising as it was dispiriting. The contrast with Smith, playing his first Test since the final match of the 2010-11 Ashes, was acute. He did not meet every ball with the middle of the bat, but showed the right combination of aggression and resolve.
At the other end Cowan fought bravely, not always looking secure but challenging India's bowlers to find something extra to dismiss him. It was the sort of dogged innings played all too rarely by Australia over the first two Tests.
The evening resumption had both batsmen struggling somewhat for rhythm, Cowan offering a chance to silly point off the face of the bat and Smith not finding the boundaries he sought. With the stand at 47 it was Cowan who succumbed, snicking a nicely pitched off break from Ashwin to slip, and cursing his inability to go on to a century after five hours of application.
Haddin announced himself by launching brazenly down the ground, and with Smith delivered a busy stand that briefly threatened to lift Australia to more certain ground. However Ishant found a modicum of old-ball movement on a ground where he and Zaheer Khan had tormented the visitors in the past, prompting Haddin to drag onto the stumps then perforating Moises Henriques' nervy forward prod.
Peter Siddle also succumbed for a duck, given lbw by the umpire Richard Kettleborough in response to a beseeching appeal by Jadeja. Though Mitchell Starc hit out typically and Smith remained composed, their hopes of driving Australia towards the kind of total merited by the pitch appear remote.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here