India v Australia, 4th Test, Delhi, 1st day March 22, 2013

Australia grit out another spin test


Australia 231 for 8 (Siddle 47*, Ashwin 4-40) v India
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

On a Feroz Shah Kotla track that had plenty of cracks even before the game began, there was variable bounce and movement for the quicks in the morning, and TV commentators were left wondering whether this match was being played at Headingley. After lunch, it was back to an all-too familiar sight this series: Australia's batsmen pinned by the turn and bounce of India's spinners.

That may seem a tailor-made surface for bowling first, but Australia's stand-in captain Shane Watson, taking over from an injured Michael Clarke, decided to bat knowing that the track will become even more difficult to score on as the match progresses. India could have shot out Australia for under 200, but for the resistance provided by Steven Smith, whose Test crediblity increased for the second match in succession, and Peter Siddle, who put away the mindless swipes usually associated with tailenders, to reach a career-best 47, and defy India for three hours.

Much of the threat in the first session had come from Ishant Sharma, who dismissed David Warner for a duck, and had Hughes bowled for an enterprising 45. The spinners took over after lunch, as the ball began to rip, and the numbers of appeal ratcheted up. Cowan had played his typical unflashy innings, intent on preserving his wicket in the testing conditions, before he became the third Australian top-order batsman to be bowled round the legs by R Ashwin in the series, while attempting a sweep.

That wicket opened the doors to a collapse, and from a healthy 106 for 2, Australia tumbled to 136 for 7. The middle order for this Test - Hughes, Watson, Smith, Matthew Wade and Glenn Maxwell - is the weakest Australia have fielded in decades, and they were unable to cope with the accuracy of the spinners, and the ball darting around. The questions over whether Watson deserves a permanent place in the side will only grow after another failure - he was stumped off Ravindra Jadeja, who continued to torment Australia's captain this series.

A fit-again Matthew Wade, reclaiming the wicketkeeping gloves from Brad Haddin, was unlucky to be dismissed bat-pad when there was no bat involved. That brought together two players who the Australian public hardly rate as Test players, Smith and Maxwell. Both began with confident straight hits for six, but Maxwell threw it away with an against-the-turn lofted hit that only went as far as mid-on.

Smith was at the non-striker's end for the most memorable dismissal of the innings, of Mitchell Johnson who was playing his first game of the series. An Ashwin carrom ball cannoned into off stump after Johnson shouldered arms. India were celebrating, but Johnson had no idea he was bowled, thinking perhaps that MS Dhoni had broken the stumps after collecting the ball. What is usually the most direct form of dismissal in cricket needed the umpire to intervene to send the batsman on his way.

With Australia losing seven wickets midway through the day, it was expected that Ashwin and Jadeja would wrap things up soon after. Smith, though, showed more of the composure that helped him so much in Mohali, knuckling down after that initial six - his next boundary came 65 deliveries later - content to block, and confident using his feet. He and Siddle had defied India for more than an hour and a half before Smith fell to a sharp catch by debutant Ajinkya Rahane at short leg.

Siddle survived plenty of close lbw calls, and had to face some unplayable deliveries, somehow managing to hang in, not trying anything extravagant, and succeeding in frustrating India's bowlers. Even after Smith's dismissal, the no-frills batting from Siddle and James Pattinson kept out India, and ensured Australia weren't bowled out on the first day.

Australia had been more flamboyant in the morning, chiefly due to Hughes, who less than a week ago was set to go down as the new benchmark for bumbling batting after a torturous time against spin. He continued to play with the confidence gleaned from his battling 69 in Mohali. He was helped by some wayward bowling from the quicks early on, thumping three fours in a Bhuvneshwar Kumar over.

Everyone was waiting for the first spinner to come on, both to see how much the ball would rip, and to see how Hughes would cope. Ashwin, India's most successful bowler in the series, came on in the ninth over and Hughes promptly struck him for two boundaries through midwicket to gallop to 29 off 23 deliveries.

The quick scoring came, though there were puffs of dust coming off the pitch when the new-ball bowlers were on. Ishant sent down a grubber early on that zipped through at ankle height. In the 21st over he bowled a snorter that sprang up from short of a length to thud into Hughes' helmet. Hughes grinned ruefully, amazed at how much that delivery lifted, and two balls later his aggressive innings came to an end, as he tentatively poked at an Ishant delivery that crashed into the stumps.

Australia will be content with how the first and third session went, but their soft middle order was exposed once more, and left them on the back foot after the first day.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Par on March 23, 2013, 4:58 GMT

    To bring on Pujara to open is the stupidest thing to do. the guy is doing well at 3 why change ? Why bring kohli up to 3 and mess up whole order ? it isnt done to ease in Rahane, more like tomorrow they dont have to take Rahane as a opener to SA. That way the opener slots go to Gambhir, Vijay, dhawan ?

    Or if Rahane fails at 5 you can bring in Raina/ Yuvi back to indian set up (as middle order batsmen).

  • Sanjay on March 23, 2013, 2:52 GMT

    Mervo on (March 22, 2013, 20:30 GMT) Both teams play on the same pitch . The pitch excuse does not hold any value. Try something new that can hide the fact that one team is just too good for the other. How about blaming the local post office or even the local taxidriver

  • raj on March 23, 2013, 2:20 GMT

    India has been notoriously slow starters - hope they don't meander and let the last couple of Aus wickets add 50 or more runs!

  • James on March 23, 2013, 2:20 GMT

    @ram4crictheory, the Australian team accepts defeat with dignity, and makes no complaints. However the public are not just going to say "well played" to a team that refuses to abide by the accepted standards. The extensive manipulation of the tracks by Dhoni and curators has been publicly exposed in the media during these past two series vs AUS/ENG. There are quite a few Indian and Sri Lankan commentators who have also blasted the team for putting down these pitches e.g. Bishin Bedi. Maybe you think others should just be quite while the Indian team does this repeatedly. Fine. But you are not the thought police and others will voice their criticisms. It is irrational in the extreme to believe that there will be no complaints from fans of other teams for doing this. Admittedly, the Saffas are almost as bad at this. The track where Steyn got 6-8 was greener than the Amazon. No wonder he, Philander and co struggled in Australia on normal pitches.

  • John on March 23, 2013, 2:05 GMT

    Enough excuses - cracks me up that selectors are getting all of the blame - what about the players. Khawaja has NOT performed on the big stage, and if picked, he would have struggled. O'Keefe would have been carted. We have no quality spinners, so we were always gonna struggle in IND. We've won all four tosses and batted first - and we're well on the way to etting whitewashed. Once again, the tail has wagged after an horrendous collapse by the clueless middle order. No wonder Clarkie has back problems - from carrying the rest of the batsmen. Good luck to IND - thoroughly outplayed AUS in all facets of the game. Flat track bullies - what a load of crap. Both teams have to bat on the same wicket, and we've had the best of the wickets to bat on. IND have managed to build partnerships - AUD haven't. @GRVJPR - bit premature to be thinking you're a real good chance vs. SA in SA - I reckon a draw would be brilliant. They are clearly the best side in the world - a massive step up from AUS!

  • ranbir on March 23, 2013, 1:20 GMT

    Had Warner not committed harakiri facing his first over, had Clarke's back allowed him to play and had some of the Aussie top order stayed at the crease a bit longer, the end-of-day score may have read 280-6 or so. By any standards, most experts would have called it close to an ideal first day score. So why whine about the pitch? Sensible batting by the lower order has shown that the top order didn't perform. Blame it on over-aggressive or overly defensive tactics - whatever. We have seen the pitch assist seamers, spinners and the batsmen. That to me means an interesting contest - cracks on the pitch not withstanding. During the last year, SA has demolished 3 teams for under 50 runs, including sinking AUS to 21-9. Would you ban cricket on those pitches? England visited India in '74-'75. i recall how exciting those matches were, with some scores of just 175, 185. Grieg Gower Gatting & Co. dug themselves in. Let's see how Indians perform on Day 2 before we denigrate the contest.

  • John on March 23, 2013, 1:09 GMT

    Wait and see how India performs before commenting on the pitch. I only saw one batsman (Johnson) get a really nasty ball. If the pitch does break up, Aus might be in a reasonable position.

    I'd rather watch cricket on a testing pitch than see the type of cricket that is having to be played in NZ at the moment where it's hard to score fast but easy enough to stay in. The same was true of the pitch in Nagpur when England played India. This pitch at least will give a result- the England/NZ series looks like being 3 draws, all rain-affected, but all on dead wickets.

  • Dummy4 on March 23, 2013, 1:06 GMT

    @Mervo on (March 22, 2013, 20:30 GMT) This is a tailor-made pitch for MItchell Johnson, where he can not only rattle batsmen, inflict bodily harm -- fingers seem to be his specialty) and get wickets. Hence, this pitch can NOT be prescribed by the "authorities" in Indian cricket. It is due to (a) end of cricketing season, (b) whether conditions, (c) contributed a bit by the general "efficiency" of the pitch staff at Kotla. Thanks to them, the ground was banned for a year by ICC, after an India - Lanka test match was abandoned after a few overs. ( So, don't start pinning the blame / 'credit' on Dhoni's lapel, for this).

  • Idli on March 23, 2013, 0:28 GMT

    My gut is telling me, India is going to lose this game. If the pitch is so bad as everyone is indicating, it looks like 231+ is a good score. If Ishant was able to hit Aussie batsmen, Johnson, Pattinson and Siddle are going to wreak havoc on Indian batsmen. Had India bowled Aus out for 160-170 and scored 50+ for no wicket it would have been advantage India. At this point, it seems Aus has the upper hand. Is it just me or does anyone else have the same feeling?

  • Mark on March 23, 2013, 0:02 GMT

    I don't get why so many people are still having a go at Steve Smith. He has clearly been the best Aussie batsman in the last 2 matches. Although Hughes has had a couple of good innings, he still struggles against spin on these turning pitches. I have no doubt he will be successful in the ashes.

    Clearly most of the Australian batsman struggle on turning decks against quality spinners. Watson struggles with concentration in general and is not test standard batsman. Good bowling allrounder, but not a top order bat. If he is not bowling he has no place in the team, certainly not as captain.