Axar, Ashwin lead India fightback after Lyon’s five-for on exciting Day 2

New Delhi, 18 Feb: Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin added another significant chapter to India’s lower-order fightbacks as their priceless 114-run eighth-wicket partnership put the hosts on an even keel against Australia on an engrossing second day of the second Test here on Saturday.
Thanks to Axar’s invaluable 74 off 115 balls and Ashwin’s 37 off 71 balls, India, who were in complete mess at 139/7, recovered well to end their first innings at 262 in 83.3 overs, just one run behind Australia’s 263.
At stumps, Australia were 61/1 in their second innings, taking a handy 62-run lead.
Had the two all-rounders not bailed the hosts out, Australia would have been far more happy than they actually were at stumps on Saturday.
Travis Head (39 batting), opening for a concussed David Warner, and Marnus Labuschagne (16 batting) attacked the Indian spinners, knowing that defending wasn’t an option. They picked up a handful of boundaries in the process.
As has been the script over the past few years, batter No.6 (Jadeja), No.8 (Ashwin) and No.9 (Axar) were at the forefront of the recovery act after specialist batters were caught in two minds on whether to attack or defend against the Australian spinners led by Nathan Lyon (5/67 in 29 overs), who grabbed his 22nd five-wicket haul.
There were no demons in the track but a few cracks on the good- and short-of-good-length spots on both sides of the strip led the ball to keep low.
Most top-order India batters were adjudged leg-before on the front-foot, barring skipper Rohit Sharma, who was bowled playing across the line. The worrying trend was India batters playing the Australian spinners with their pads as the first line of defence.
However, Axar and Ashwin applied the strategy to consistently counter-attack the bowlers despite the fall of seven wickets. Instead of plonking the front-foot forward, they used the pace of the deliveries from Todd Murphy (2/53 in 18 overs) and debutant left-arm spinner Matt Kuhnemann (2/72 in 21.3 overs), to score runs.
Axar got his third fifty — and a second consecutive one in the series — with a six over cow corner off Kuhnemann and another over extra cover off Murphy. He also hit a six off Lyon, but his standout shot was a back-foot punch through the covers off Pat Cummins.
Ashwin too was determined at the other end and did not let go of the scoring opportunities as Australia lost the initiative after dominating the better part of the first one-and-a-half sessions on Saturday.
India lost wickets in a heap in the morning session before Virat Kohli (44 off 84 balls) and Ravindra Jadeja (26 off 74 balls) steadied the innings in the post-lunch session by adding 59 runs for the fifth wicket.
But once Murphy, playing his second Test, and debutant Kuhnemann dismissed the duo in quick succession, things went downhill quickly for the hosts.
The difference one saw between the Australian spin attack in Nagpur and Delhi could be due to the pace of the Kotla track. Credit must be given to stalwart Lyon and the two young spinners for keeping up the pressure despite losing three referrals in the first hour of day two.
Kohli, who played with a lot of composure and was looked good for a big score, would consider himself unlucky that he had to head back due to an umpire’s call.
Kuhnemann’s arm ball seemed to be brushing the leg-bail and India’s No. 1 batter looked distraught as there was no conclusive evidence on whether the ball hit the pad first or the bat.
Before that, a Murphy slider caught India’s most consistent Test batter Jadeja plumb in front.
In the morning session, KL Rahul’s bad patch continued while Cheteshwar Pujara had a forgettable first innings outing in his 100th Test.
Only Rohit Sharma (32) looked in good touch as a vintage Lyon was in his element, troubling the top-order repeatedly.
Rahul (17), who survived two DRS appeals, was trapped leg-before as Lyon tossed one from round the wicket and got it to deviate enough and find his pads.
Rahul’s run of failures will again spur the debate about whether young Shubman Gill should have been given the opportunity to play in the ongoing Test.
Rohit seemed to carry from where he had left in the first Test and was also playing the sweep shot to good effect. However, he played across the line to a straighter one from Lyon and was castled in the process.
Rarely has Pujara walked in to bat amid such fanfare — the 20,000-plus Kotla crowd kept chanting his name — but his milestone match turned out to be an anti-climax as he failed to bother the scorers.
It was another flighted delivery from Lyon which turned back enough and the orthodox Rajkot man tried to play a half-forward defensive stroke only to be caught plumb in front. He would like to forget the innings in a hurry. (PTI)