<
>

Head, Ashwin star in fierce battle for lead

play
Unbelievable spell from Ashwin to support quicks - Agarkar (3:29)

Ajit Agarkar and VVS Laxman discuss India's disciplined day with the ball (3:29)

Australia 7 for 191 (Head 61*, Handscomb 34, Ashwin 3-50) trail India 250 (Pujara 123, Hazlewood 3-52) by 59 runs

R Ashwin's skill and Travis Head's patience headlined another day of old-school Test cricket that left the Adelaide Test fascinatingly poised. After Ashwin's delightful cocktail of drift, dip, and turn undid Australia's line-up, Head, playing his first Test in the country, rallied with an unbeaten 61 on his home ground to narrow the deficit to 59 at stumps on day two.

On their previous tour to Australia in December 2014, India had dropped Ashwin from the first Test, at this venue, and gambled on a more attacking option: a wristspinner in rookie Karn Sharma, who would wind up conceding 238 at a run rate of 4.85 across both innings. Four years later, in the first Test of the series, Ashwin showed his worth in an uninterrupted 22-over spell, where he plucked out three left-handed batsmen and conceded only 38 runs.

Runs came in a trickle for Australia - their run rate of 2.17 was their second lowest in the first innings of a home Test since 1990 - but Head was simply immovable. He showed excellent judgment outside off, but latched on to anything that was loose. Case in point: when Ashwin dropped an offbreak short and wide outside off, Head ventured deep in the crease and crunched it to the point boundary. Later, when Ishant Sharma overpitched one outside off, Head bent his back knee and drove it through extra-cover. He reached his fifty off 103 balls in the 73rd over, when he punched a rank half-tracker from part-time offspinner M Vijay to deep cover.

play
1:42

All eyes on Head, Bumrah and Rahul for third day - Hodge

VVS Laxman, Ajit Agarkar, and Brad Hodge pick four players who hold the key on day 3

However, such looseners were few and far between. After Josh Hazlewood needed just one ball on day two to snaffle Mohammed Shami down the leg side and wrap up India for 250, Ishant struck with his third ball: a full inswinger that felled the off and middle stumps, and Finch for 0. While Ishant found sharp movement in the air, Finch aimed a booming drive and chopped on. Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb were just as culpable of playing loose shots, but there was no denying that the pressure from India was relentless.

After the debutant opener Marcus Harris dashed down the track and drove Ashwin down the ground and through the covers for fours, the offspinner scrambled Harris' judgment of line with late drift. After looping a very full ball outside off, he got it to swerve in and draw an inside edge, which ricocheted off the pad to Vijay at silly mid-off. At the other end, though, the seamers erred in their lengths by bowling short in the lead-up to lunch.

Marsh then threw his wicket away in the first over after the break, when he went after a wide offbreak from Ashwin and chopped on for 2. Marsh's Test scores since his 156 in the Ashes in January read: 40, 24, 26, 16, 7, 3, 2.

Ashwin then found just enough turn and bounce from around the wicket to have Usman Khawaja gloving behind for 28 off 125 balls and left the hosts at 4 for 87. Handscomb, in his first Test in Australia since he was dropped at the end of last year's Adelaide Test against England, was more secure against Ashwin, often taking trips down the pitch or going right back to negotiate the short balls.

His vigil, though, ended when Jasprit Bumrah pushed him back with a brace of short balls and then sucker-punched him with a full ball. And when Tim Paine was dismissed by Ishant for 5, Australia careened to 6 for 127. From an identical score, Cheteshwar Pujara had fashioned a great escape for India on day one. Head, too, threatens something similar, along with the tail, as the battle for the lead heats up.