When India took 9 Australian wickets for 205 on first day of Pune’s first test match, it looked as if the home side would continue their victorious march with another glorious win. No one factored left-arm spinner Stephen O’Keefe, who was playing only his 5th test match. O’Keefe had test figures of 14 wickets from 4 test matches after making his test debut against Pakistan more than 2 years ago. But the 32-year old Australian caught the Indian batsmen in the web of his viciously spinning deliveries; not once but twice in succession. Known for dealing with spin bowling themselves, India’s batsmen succumbed to O’Keefe’s magic and were lucky to cross the century mark in either innings. In a single test match, O’Keefe almost doubled his test scalps by taking 12 wickets and destroyed India decisively. It was the first time since 2012 that India lost a test on home soil and their dream run of recent victories came to a humiliating halt. As for Australia, they won against India on a visit for the first time since 2004, when they had come here with the likes of Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.
Australia didn’t merely win the Pune test; they thrashed India by blowing them away. The curators might have had Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in mind while preparing the pitch and the two Indian spinners were duly rewarded on first day, when Australia won the toss and batted first. The visitors had begun solidly and if the first-wicket stand of 82 was any indication, they looked like heading to a big total. The fall of their third wicket in 60th over, however, brought the slide and next 6 wickets fell in a heap. At 205/9, India certainly had the upper hand. The spin-demon of the pitch was momentarily forgotten, when Mitchell Starc began a late assault but Australia’s 255/9 on first day didn’t look threatening.
Things completely changed after lunch on second day. In the morning, Australia faced just 5 more balls before being all out for 260 and Indian openers came out. Based purely on their recent runs in test matches, India were quite capable of getting past Australia’s total. But after Mitchell Starc bowled the first over, Australian skipper Smith brought left-arm spinner Stephen O’Keefe from the other side. Pitch condition on day one, would have prompted Smith to introduce spin straightaway. India’s openers dealt with early overs without too much trouble but when Smith replaced Starc with Josh Hazlewood in 7th over, he reaped instant benefit. Murali Vijay poked an away-going ball to be caught behind. Starc came back in 15th over and struck two mighty blows. He first removed Cheteshwar Pujara with a ripper that mounted on the batsman’s chest and the nick went to Matthew Wade’s gloves. Virat Kohli allowed Starc’s first ball to pass by but fended off an away-going next ball to be caught in the slips for a duck. 44/3 in 15th over still didn’t signal the venom that was about to envelope India. O’Keefe had been taken off after his spell of 5 overs and Nathan Lyon had taken his place.
After lunch, Lokesh Rahul reached a top-class fifty and looked like digging India out of the ditch. By 32nd over, India had reached 94/3 and the fourth-wicket stand had produced 50 runs. The drama began in O’Keefe’s 10th over and Indian innings 33rd. The spinner swallowed three wickets in this over. First to go was Rahul, who fell to a rank bad shot and the high edge was easily taken by David Warner. Then Rahane nicked O’Keefe to second slip. Wriddhiman Saha played one ball but nicked the next into Smith’s hands at slips. 94/3 became 95/6 in a flash. In the next over, Lyon made it 95/7 by taking Ashwin’s wicket. India could only add 10 more runs as O’Keefe wiped off the tail. India’s pathetic 105 all out gave a big first innings lead to Australia and they became heavy favorites to win the test. They scored merrily in second innings despite Ashwin and Jadeja making their job difficult. Captain Smith led from front and notched up his first test century in India and 18th overall. Australia ended at 282 all out with a whopping lead of 440 runs.
India’s tale of misery continued in second innings as well as they faced a victory target of 441. Both openers departed by 6th over and although Kohli improved from his first innings’ duck, he fell to O’Keefe in a strange way. He left a straight ball alone, thinking it would turn. It didn’t and Kohli was clean bowled. It was poor judgment from one of the world’s best batsmen. Pujara was the only Indian batsman to offer some resistance even as O’Keefe and Lyon made the batsmen hop, skip and jump. Of the 34 overs in India’s second innings, only 4 were shared by Starc and Hazlewood because O’Keefe and Lyon were enough to create havoc. Like in the first innings, Indian batsmen failed to read the turn from the two Australian spinners and paid the price. From 77/3 at one stage, India lost 7 wickets for just 30 more runs and finished at 107 all out.
In their 333-run victory, Australia literally outclassed India in every department of the game. Before the start of the test match Stephen O’Keefe was regarded as the weakest Australian bowlers but he proved everyone wrong with match figures of 12/70 that rightly earned him the Player-of-the-Match award. For India, it was a big sting after a recent run of test victories and they will need to seriously think about the course of action for the remaining three tests at Bangalore, Ranchi and Dharmasala.
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