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Doherty, the only specialist spinner in his team, couldnít hit the rough regularly nor could he get much bite out of it. Ashwin, Indiaís No.1 spinner in the first Test at Chennai, could do both. The Indianís persistence made the spin duel a no-contest. And to be fair to Doherty, he was trying to run through the defences of Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay, two batsmen playing the innings of their life. Ashwin was up against David Warner, Ed Cowan and Phillip Hughes, three batsmen dealing with career-threatening crises of confidence.
On a pitch whose turnability has increased with each passing day, the result of the Doherty vs Ashwin match-up was an important variable in the final analysis of the Test. Despite the weary pitch, Doherty went wicketless in the first session. This ineffectiveness accelerated India to 503, a lead of 266. Ashwin went on to show how itís done with the wickets of Warner and Hughes, both bowled behind their legs while sweeping. The wily off-spinnerís perseverance paid off but the rough too had a role to play in the ball going onto crash into the stumps. The vital blows resulted in Australia finishing at 74/2 at stumps. Trailing by 192 with eight wickets in hand, the Australians at the end of Day Three were like an exhausted, famished bunch at base camp staring at the distant peak of a snow-capped mountain.
Sandwiched between the two decisive sessions was a less important post-lunch period of play. In these two hours, Doherty was to take three lower-order wickets. Off-spinning all-rounder Glenn Maxwell would finish with four. These strikes didnít look too significant in the context of the game since they came about after Pujara (204) and Murali Vijay (167) had compiled a record breaking 370-run partnership. The uniqueness of this monumental association was: Never had a No.4 batsman waited so long in the Indian dressing room before going out to bat. The only talking point of the second session was Sachin Tendulkarís dismissal, umpire Marais Erasmus once again managing a decision review without the DRS.
The spate of Indian wickets after lunch wouldnít have cheered up Australian captain Michael Clarke, who repeatedly kicked the turf in frustration all morning. Looking for an early breakthrough, Clarke started with Doherty backed by an aggressive field. There was slip, point and cover in place but no one posted on the fence. Doherty would bowl full hoping to land on the rough and induce Pujara and Vijay to misjudge the bounce and edge to Clarke at slip.
Or there was Plan B, which almost came off against Pujara. The arm-ball came in from the rough and hit the in-form batsmanís pads. The umpire thought it was doing too much. The Australians thought otherwise. They went up with Doherty and several minutes later collapsed in disappointment. Finally, Pujara had missed something but it hadnít resulted in his wicket. Clarke kicked the turf; Doherty sank on the bare 22-yard strip.
Quite disciplined till then, Doherty would now lose control. Every over would have at least one short ball, and additionally it would be wide too. With no one on the off-side fence, Pujara and Vijay tucked in merrily. Maxwell too was erratic, when he needed to keep the batsmen under some sort of pressure. He too bowled short periodically, and once again the ball would travel to the point boundary. Every four would see the patch around Clarkís foot lose a few blades of grass. The captain continued to insist on the attacking field and runs leaked uncontrollably. Finally, it was Maxwell, bowling around the wicket, who foxed Vijay with extra bounce. Pujara too would follow inside to a standing ovation before lunch.
The real deal
Unlike the Australian spinners, Ashwinís strikes were timely and better planned. He opened the attack, from the end that Doherty had bowled from. The start wasnít great as Warner hit him for three fours in his first over. But Ashwin got used to the new ball soon and tested the Aussie left-handers with the one that spun across them. This kept things tight. Cowan was to take 28 balls to open his account.
With no one on the square leg fence, the Australians had the option of sweeping to step up the run flow. Ashwin would provide them the opportunity. But it came with a rider. The ball would be quicker and pitch in the rough. This would make the sweep shot tough to pull off. Warner and Phillip Hughes failed and lost their stumps.
The Australians could have been in a deeper hole had the edges that Bhuvneshwar Kumar induced from Warner and Cowan been held by Virat Kohli at gully and MS Dhoni behind the stumps. Pace, spin or batting - India was better in each department. Day 4 will see if they can wrap up the Test quicker than they did in Chennai.
Day 4: live on star cricket, 9:30am