Chennai: The fourth day of this Chennai Test was a throwback to the 1990s, when the Indian formula for success revolved around the batsmen putting up huge totals and the slow bowlers befuddling the opposition on surfaces that resembled sandpits. Once they conceded a lead of 192, and with a top order so callow in these conditions, Australia stood little chance, and it needed another innings of great character from Moises Henriques to stave off an innings defeat. A 57-run stand for the final wicket with Nathan Lyon stretched the first Test into a final day, with Australia just 40 ahead.
Michael Clarke's dismissal on Monday (February 25), trapped in front by a delivery that turned 45 degrees and kept low, epitomised Australia's struggle and when they slipped to 137 for 7 soon after tea, it seemed unlikely that the game would go into a fifth day. But Henriques, who grew in confidence during his unbeaten 75 (124 balls, 6×4, 2×6), shepherded the tail beautifully to keep India at bay.
Australia's survival plan had to be amended even before they came out to bat a second time. David Warner was suffering with a stomach bug, and Shane Watson was promoted to open alongside Ed Cowan. India didn't bother with their pace bowlers, who had combined for 30 fruitless overs in the first innings. R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh took the new ball, and it was soon turning and bouncing viciously out of the rough. The two openers somehow endured till the stroke of lunch when a loopy delivery from Ashwin leapt off the surface enough to take the shoulder of Watson's bat. Virender Sehwag, at slip, grasped the chance.
Cowan batted for 97 balls, with lots of application and no little luck, as fends and flicks kept eluding fielders. Again, it was Ashwin that broke through, with a delivery that turned just enough to thud into the pad. And 64 for 2 quickly became 65 for 3 as Ravindra Jadeja got one to rear off the pitch from a good length. A surprised Phil Hughes could only glove it to slip.
Warner had come in at No. 3, and taken 15 balls to get off the mark. Clarke, fortunate not to be caught by Virat Kohli at leg slip as soon as he came in, was nothing like as circumspect, lofting Ashwin over long-on for six and then pulling him for four more.
The seeds of a decent partnership had been sown when Harbhajan, who had an undistinguished outing in the first innings, accounted for Warner in a fashion that harked back to his glory years. Coming round the wicket, the ball pitched in line and went straight on as Warner appeared to play for the turn. When Matthew Wade's sweep to a straight delivery connected only with thin air, it was clear that the onus was once again very much on Clarke.
He went for 31 three balls after tea, and after that it was a countdown to extinction. Peter Siddle's slog at Jadeja saw the middle stump pegged back, and it was left to Henriques and James Pattinson to try and make India bat again. Henriques once again played with the poise he had shown in the first innings, while Pattinson thwarted India for 26 balls before Ashwin claimed his 11th of the match – Sehwag taking another catch at slip.
Mitchell Starc chipped Ashwin to Sachin Tendulkar at mid-on as the spin pincers closed in, but Lyon and Henriques staved off the innings defeat with a determined partnership that defied India for 109 balls. Dhoni finally called on Ishant after 75 overs of spin, but it was Henriques that the crowd cheered for minutes later as a six over long-on off Harbhajan gave him a second half-century in the match.
India had kept Australia in the field for nearly an hour in the morning. Dhoni's reverse-swept four off Lyon was a sign that there would be no change in approach, and a mighty six soon followed. Pattinson was then driven for four as he closed in on the highest score made by a wicketkeeper – Andy Flower's 232 at Nagpur in November 2000.
It wasn't to be though as a top edge off a Pattinson bouncer was safely taken by Wade behind the stumps. He had added 140 for the ninth wicket with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Australia's pain was extended for another eight overs as the debutant showed that he could play some shots of his own. By the time Siddle had him caught at mid-on, the fielders' body language said it all.
Six hours later, despite the heroics from Henriques, they were left to contemplate a likely fourth consecutive Test defeat on Indian soil, dating back to 2008.
Story first published on: Monday, 25 February 2013 11:16 IST