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