In a day dominated by R Ashwin's spin masterclass, Bumrah's early strikes, India showcased that the 2018/19 tour might not be an outlier and they are capable to deal with Smith-Marnus. It also was a day which reinforced India's tail woes and that Paine ain't as bad as people make him to be.
Brief Scores: India 9/1 (Mayank Agarwal 5* and Pat Cummins 1/6) and 244 leads Australia by 60 runs at Day 2 stumps.
India's horrendous tail
India started with an overnight score of 233 for 6. Now, if they added 40 runs, it would have helped them to a decent than a below-par total with which they finished especially as we saw more movement today. But the lower order played loose shots on a pitch that has something for bowlers and good batting burst could have helped set up the game for the tourists. But, all Indians could add was 11 runs as they got bundled out for 244. From 188 for 4 to 244 all-out, India's chances of winning the Test as per WinViz fell from 48% to 32%.
Earlier this year, India's tail (8-11) averaged a horrendous 9 in the whitewash against New Zealand. In fact, when it comes to away Tests in the last three years, India's tail has been one of the worst and averages 12.25, which is only better than Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ireland and Zimbabwe. England is the top side as their tail averages 16.96. It wasn't something that was unexpected as the likes of Umesh, Shami and Bumrah are anything but expected to do much like the case today.
Now, that is where the role of seven and eight - as batsmen becomes paramount. But Ashwin has failed to do justice to his batting talent in last two years and has been averaging 8.60 while Saha has averaged 20.75. Add tail woes to it, and it was always a disaster waiting to happen. Then why didn't India went for solidifying lower-middle-order with Rishabh Pant, who was decent behind the stumps in Australia last time and has the highest average (58.33) for an Indian wicket-keeper in Australia? The question will haunt them the team management as today a good cameo by Pant could have helped India with a definite edge.
R Ashwin's potential match-winning spell
Ravichandran Ashwin has been one of the most scrutinized players from India in SENA countries. In the past, we have seen him getting overshadowed by the likes of Nathan Lyon and Moeen Ali. But, Australia's first innings can prove to be a perception changing spell as he has bowled with a great rhythm to turn into a game-changer from the much-expected holding job with the old Kookaburra ball, often a phase of domination by batsmen in Australia and particularly in a pink-ball encounter.
When the pitch is helping, bowlers have the tendency to get carried away, more than anyone, Ashwin has a history of going for too many variations and failing to reap rewards in away conditions. But, today, there weren't the outlandish variations as he trusted his instincts more, and used dip, drift and flight to perfection. It is something he had done extensively in the first warm-up game too, use variations only when required and when it did come out, batsmen were left surprised.
The wicket of Steven Smith was a great example of how he used the straight ball, a variation brilliantly, after bowling offies to him mostly in that over, giving Smith a false idea that he will bowl off-spin. Similarly, Ashwin varied his pace masterfully to get Head as he delivered an 80.8kph flighted ball, the slowest he had up to that point to the southpaw, having bowled as quickly as 92kph. Unlike Lyon who was giving more loop and overspin to the pink cherry, and bowled shorter to hit the splice of the bat with his bounce, Ashwin attacked the stumps more. He also put a lot of body into his bowing and finally looked like the Ashwin we see in home Tests.
Tim Paine shows how it's done to his fellow batsmen
With an average of 24.07 in 2019, Paine was questioned for his batting displays. Aussies were under the pump when he came to the crease at 79-5. Interestingly, it was also a point in time when Australia's diffident approach was under scanner as the last time the hosts were on a lower score after 40 overs of a Test innings, was way back in 1999. Intent-less batting tactic was not working as Indian bowlers were on top with Australia hardly challenging the status quo.
But, Tim Paine in an innings, where Marnus and Smith didn't dominate, exhibited an approach/template that Australia needed to take. On a tricky pitch to bat, he was rotating the strike well, was busy at crease, had an attacking intent and a sense of responsibility whilst batting with the tail. As per CricViz, Paine had a false shot percentage of just 11%, which was lower than all with exception of Kohli, Labuschagne, and Pujara. 51% of his shots were rotating strokes, the most in the game, showing an alternative template to bat than what Pujara and Kohli exhibited to score runs successfully yesterday.
Also to add, Saha was expected to don a similar hat for India in the early hours of the day's play but what he did was strikingly different, giving away his wicket rather than batting with the tail. Paine made it work for himself and his side in the game with a crucial fifty unlike Saha, who couldn't take the lead with the bat earlier today as India added 11 runs for last four wickets. Paine batted masterfully with the tail, farmed strike at times, went for the big shots and also shun his critics who have been gunning for his head for a while, including a reverse-sweep off Ashwin, showing his confidence.