New Delhi, March 22 (IANS) The Australian batting collapsed yet again, this time on a crumbling Ferozeshah Kotla wicket here, and the visitors ended the opening day Friday of the fourth and last cricket Test at a scratchy 231 for eight.
Australia had to rely, as they did more than once in the series, on their tail-enders to bail them out. From a precarious 153 for seven, they carried their first innings to a respectable score.
Steven Smith (46) and No.9 Peter Siddle (47 batting) batted grittily on a pitch on which their top-order batsmen looked clueless against India’s spinners.
Siddle saved Australia from getting bowled out for less than 200 runs. He first stuck it out with Smith to add 53 runs and then farmed the bowling as he added 42 for the unfinished ninth-wicket partnership with James Pattinson (11).
After a double-strike by pacer Ishant Sharma (2/35) in the first session, Indian spinners Ravichandran Ashwin (4/40) and Ravindra Jadeja (2/34) left the Australia innings in shambles as the visitors lost five wickets for 30 runs in the second session before recovering to add 78 in the last post-tea session, thanks to Smith and Siddle.
Smith mixed caution with aggression. He was not afraid to use his feet to smother the spin and twice even lofted left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha for huge sixes. Smith was the last wicket to fall in the day with debutant Ajinkya Rahane taking a sharp catch at forward short-leg off Ashwin.
The visitors won their fourth straight toss after losing their skipper Michael Clarke to a chronic back problem and the 44th Australian captain Watson had little hesitation in opting to bat. What followed was more or less what happened during the entire series.
David Warner lasted four deliveries before he fell for a duck, caught at second slip by Virat Kohli slashing at Ishant.
Phil Hughes (45) scored briskly, hitting 10 fours, and just when he looked good for a big score Ishant softened him up with a short-pitched delivery that crashed into the grill of his helmet. He laughed it off, but two balls later was on his way back, playing on.
Australia took lunch at a healthy 94 for two, but on resumption the Indian spinners were in full flight.
Ed Cowan (38) was the first to go, bowled round his legs, attempting a sweep off Ashwin, exactly the way Warner and Hughes were dismissed by the offspinner in the Hyderabad second innings. It triggered a middle-order collapse as Australia slumped from 106 for three to 136 for seven.
Watson (17) was the next to go. Having survived a stumping chance before lunch, Watson charged down to Jadeja only to miss the line and was stumped by Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
It was the sixth time in the series that Jadeja removed an Australian captain in the series and Watson went without a Test hundred for the 38th innings. Watson’s last hundred (126) came against India in October 2010 and his low scores and falling averages are a cause for concern for both him and the side.
Vice-captain Matthew Wade (2) was caught bat-pad at silly point by Murali Vijay off Ashwin and Jadeja dismissed Glenn Maxwell (10) to expose the Australian tail. Wade was unlucky as TV replays showed that he didn’t hit the ball.
Tail-ender Mitchell Johnson (3) was trapped leg-before after he offered no shot and became Ashwin’s 25th victim in the series.
Besides Watson coming in for Clarke, Australia made four other changes in the side — Wade returned after missing the Mohali Test, Johnson replaced injured Mitchell Starc, Pattinson for Xavier Doherty and Maxwell for Moises Henriques.
India made one change — debutant Rahane replacing local boy Shikhar Dhawan, who injured the knuckles of his left hand during the Mohali Test.