Captain Michael Clarke led from the front with a sparkling unbeaten century under pressure as Australia recovered from a precarious position to post a respectable 316 for seven on the opening day of the first cricket Test against India in Chennai on Friday.
Clarke brought up his 23rd Test century off the second last ball of the day hitting left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja towards long-off to remain unbeaten on 103 on a day which saw an engrossing battle between the bat and the ball.
Clarke negated all the good work done by off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin (6/88) who took all but one among seven wickets that fell on the day at the Chepauk.
Clarke was well-complemented by debutant Moises Henriques (68) as the pair added 147 runs for the sixth wicket after Ashwin’s terrific post-lunch spell saw the visitors being reduced to 153 for five.
The Tamil Nadu offer finally broke the partnership by dismissing the impressive Henriques, trapping him leg-before much to the relief of his teammates.
Ashwin, who took his sixth five-wicket haul in Test matches ended with fantastic figures of six for 88 in 30 overs but should consider himself unlucky being robbed off Clarke’s wicket due to the absence of Decision Review System (DRS).
The Australian captain was batting on 39 when he offered a simple bat-pad catch to Cheteshwar Pujara at forward short-leg but umpire Kumar Dharmasena turned down the vociferous appeal from the Indians.
The television replays clearly indicated that the ball had hit Clarke’s bat before flying off to the close-in fielder. The rival skipper took advantage of the situation and did not look back as he took his team to a position of safety with other Indian bowlers looking pedestrian.
A lot was expected of Harbhajan Singh playing his 100th Test match but the experienced off-spinner went off the boil after the first few overs giving away 71 runs in 19 overs.
Debutant Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s performance also left a lot to be desired. With a pace of about 130 kmph, he could hardly pose much problems for Clarke and Henriques.
It was a commendable show by Clarke and Henriques, who were positive to begin with and didn’t look like getting bogged down by the bald turner that was on offer.
In all three sessions, the Australian batsmen maintained a decent run-rate despite losing wickets at regular intervals.
Opting the bat first, David Warner showed decisive footwork during the first couple of hours as he attacked the Indian spinners Harbhajan and Ashwin. Ed Cowan also looked confident, although both the openers got a reprieve in the first hour.
Cowan charged down the track and Dhoni missed a stumping chance while Warner’s catch was dropped by Virender Sehwag at the first slip. The bowler on both occasions was Ashwin.
However, the burly homeboy had the last laugh against left-hander Cowan (29), who confidently charged down the track to loft Ashwin. The ball turned and bounced as Dhoni whipped the bails off in a flash. .
Phil Hughes (6) didn’t look comfortable at all during his brief stay and dragged a wide short delivery from Ashwin onto the stumps.
Warner however continued to attack as he completed his 50 off 77 balls with five fours in company of Shane Watson (28).
The duo put on 54 runs for the third wicket as Australia went into lunch at 126 for two.
The first hour in the post-lunch session turned out to be very productive for India as Ashwin dismissed Watson, Warner and Matthew Wade in quick succession as the visitors suffered a mid-innings collapse.
Both Watson and Warner were leg before trying to play deliveries that were skidding and were caught on the back foot.
Warner made 59 off 93 balls with the help of six fours.
But it was skipper Clarke, who responded to the crisis situation as he batted with a lot of authority. His footwork was assured and he decided to wait for the loose deliveries hitting as many as 11 fours and a six.
He drove well and also played the cut shot perfectly. The six off Ashwin over long-on was majestic as it brought up his half century. Clarke also completed 7000 Test runs on the day, when he reached a personal score of 11.
A lot of credit should also be given to Henriques, who showed maturity playing second fiddle to Clarke. He faced 132 deliveries and hit five boundaries in the process. He also ran well between the wickets and proved to be the ideal foil for someone like Clarke, who found the gaps with ease.
Any total in excess of 350 could prove to be challenging for the Indians as the ball is getting roughed up quickly on a bone dry surface.
With three potent quicks in the opposition ranks and two of them being exponents of reverse swing, the Indians will have to be at their best when they get a chance to bat tomorrow.
For the Indian bowlers, Ashwin’s performance was the only silver lining as he bowled in excellent areas throughout the day. Had he got a bit of more support from the other end, India might have been able to dismiss Aussies for a far lesser score.
While Harbhajan was again guilty of bowling flat, Jadeja didn’t have any variation in his bowling. The Saurashtra all—rounder did get a wicket in the end bowling Mitchell Starc through the gate but by then the visitors had reached a position of safety.
There was little cheer for the opening bowlers too as Bhuvneshwar and Ishant Sharma gave 94 runs in 22 overs bowled between them. Especially, it wasn’t a pretty sight to find Dhoni standing up to the stumps to a new ball bowler in the fifth over of the day.
Australia 1st Innings: 316/7 in 95 overs (Michael Clarke 103 batting, Moises Henriques 68, David Warner 59; R Ashwin 6/88).