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Khawaja, Handscomb give Australia a competitive total

Handscomb remained unbeaten on 72.

For the second time in the series, Pat Cummins won a crucial toss and unlike Nagpur, his batters gave his four-prong bowling attack (1 seamer, 3 spinners) a total of 263 to work with. Usman Khawaja (81) and Peter Handscomb (72*) displayed contrasting approaches to playing spin even as India’s bowling depth and their incisiveness to take wickets in clumps came to the fore. The advantage of runs on the board was in evidence in the brief nine-over period that India batted even though there was no success forthcoming.

This was not a Nagpur type of surface in that there was spin but not alarming enough to set the cat among the pigeons. But with India set to bat last, by when deterioration ought to make scoring difficult, they needed a significant first innings total to apply scoreboard pressure on their rampant hosts.

But before Australia could put their spin preparations to test, they had to get past Mohammed Siraj and Shami. The latter was a touch profligate in his first spell, missing his lines while looking to attack the stumps. Khawaja got off to a brisk start with a pair of flicked boundaries and another squeezed past third man. But Warner continued to find the going difficult and was troubled by Siraj, who produced an excellent six-over burst replete with skiddy short balls that had the veteran opener hopping and copping blows.

Crucially for the visitors, the openers survived to add 50 runs before Shami returned for a second spell and put Warner out of his misery with what has become a usual dismissal for the southpaw facing seamers from around the stumps. Shami pinned Warner back in his crease with his length and the ball left him ever so slightly to catch the outside edge on the way to the ‘keeper.

A quick counter-attack followed as Marnus Labuschagne joined Khawaja. With spinners now in operation, the latter whipped out both the conventional and the reverse sweeps against Ashwin and also mixed those up by stepping out and lofting the offspinner over long-off for a six. Labuschagne was just as industrious in his approach, hitting Shami for a pair of boundaries and then stepping out and whipping Ashwin for a four through mid-wicket.

The wily spinner though had his man just before Lunch when he ripped an off break from around the stumps to spin past Labuschagne’s defence and ping him in line. The umpire adjudged it not-out but India had their man with the aid of DRS. Two balls later, Ashwin got one to straighten off the surface to get Steve Smith’s outside edge for KS Bharat to complete a sharp, low catch. India almost had Khawaja too before lunch when he missed a flick against Ravindra Jadeja but a shrewd review from the batter, with the ball pitching just outside leg, allowed him to carry on and complete Australia’s first 50 of the series.

Having added 94 in the first session, Australia kept up the scoring rate through the second, which brought 105 runs. Khawaja was once again at the forefront of this push. Shami prized out the returning Travis Head early after Lunch before Handscomb and Khawaja joined forces to keep India at bay. Handscomb, in particular, was very assured with his technique and against a softened ball, was happy to stay back and play off the backfoot. With first innings runs at a premium, Rohit stationed in-out fields and that meant singles were on offer for the two batters.

Eventually, it was a moment of fielding brilliance that brought India respite. Khawaja timed another reverse-sweep off Jadeja but couldn’t beat a leaping Rahul at cover-point to fall for 81. India seized the opening and added another wicket when Alex Carey edged Ashwin to slip.

At a 168/6, there were fears of the lower-order caving once more to a sub-200 total but Pat Cummins and the impressive Handscomb allayed those fears with another half-century stand, the third of Australia’s innings. Cummins dominated it and hit a pair of slog-swept sixes off Ashwin before playing around his pads to a straight ball from Jadeja to be LBW for 33. The left-arm spinner then castled Todd Murphy through the gate.

Handscomb though upped his scoring rate ever so slightly and pushed the total past 250 before Shami came back to mop up the last two wickets to complete a four-fer. The right-handed Handscomb, who last scored a Test match half-century in 2017, was reprieved right at the end when Jadeja overstepped and remained unbeaten on 72.

India faced a tricky nine-over period before the close of play but Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul saw that through despite a couple of nervy moments against debutant left-arm spinner Matthew Kuhnemann.

Brief scores: Australia 263 (Usman Khawaja 81, Peter Handscomb 72*; Mohammed Shami 4-60, R. Ashwin 3-57) lead India 21/0 (Rohit Sharma 13*) by 242 runs.


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