Ravichandran Ashwin
R Ashwin was the pick of Indian bowlers on Day 2 (AFP Photo)

Adelaide: The great bit about Cheteshwar Pujara’s innings on day one wasn’t that he is the only batsman on both sides to possess the ability to bat time. Instead, it was in that he knew that this Adelaide pitch didn’t support all types of shots in the book.

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After Pujara batted for a little while, he was able to make this differentiation, which is the root determinant of how long he could bat. And the thing is – Australia simply don’t have a Pujara. They do have a fascinating support set-up, which picked up from his innings that you cannot go out to bat with all guns blazing.

Sure, they managed only 191 runs all day and lost seven wickets in doing so. But unlike the callous Indian top-order, none of the Australian batsmen barring perhaps Aaron Finch were guilty of playing rash strokes that didn’t merit the timing of situation at hand. Maybe you can add Shaun Marsh to it too, but in his defense, things could have been very different if he hadn’t edged that and creamed R Ashwin’s delivery for four instead.

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That’s the thing about Test cricket – it derives narration from moments that can provide context to an entire day’s play. Why was that Marsh dismissal so important for both Australia and India? Hell, why was it so talked about on social media? In his enigmatic scoring ways, Marsh is like Rohit Sharma – extremely talented, equally inconsistent. They are a riddle that neither Indian nor Australian selectors can solve.

Ashwin admitted that Marsh is a key wicket for India in that he is one of the few Australian batsmen in that line-up who can score runs against spinners freely. A rash stroke, dragged onto the stumps, probably ended all hope Australia had of forcing themselves on the Indian bowling on day two. For, that was the theme on Friday – India were simply in no mood to relent bowling pressure and made 250 seem like 350.

Ishant Sharma started with a jaffa that Finch had no response to – he became the fifth top-order batsmen in this Test to perish playing the cover drive. You simply cannot play that shot here without batting time. Debutant Marcus Harris knew it; Usman Khawaja knew it, as did most other Australian batsmen. It is pretty obvious this bit was drilled into their heads, pun unintended.

Indian pacers were a little off their lengths in that morning session. They bowled 40 per cent shorter as compared to Australian pacers, while finding 28 per cent more swing – imagine how effective they could have been. The key for this Indian attack though has been finding their faults and rectifying them speedily. And this is the marked change we saw in their bowling since lunch.

Sample Jasprit Bumrah’s figures – at one point in the morning session, he had conceded 0-24 in five overs. Even so, he finished with 2/34 from 20 overs, inclusive of nine maidens, six of which came in a row in his second spell. Mind you, he hadn’t left the field during that phase – it was self-correction, later enhanced by further discussion in the lunchtime team meeting.

It was the same for Mohammed Shami, when he came on after lunch, or even for Ishant, who improvised further, when he bowled post tea. That delivery to Tim Paine was as unplayable as the one Ashwin had received when batting on day one – spitting up because of the grass on this pitch as it is holding the ball a tad.

Ashwin pointed this aspect out in his post-match conference, underlining that the pitch could get slower and slower as the game progresses, albeit it might not break up. The offspinner bowled 22 overs on the bounce on either side of tea, including with the second new ball. It was one of his best spells in overseas cricket – control, drift (both into the batsmen and going away), as well as holding one end up which is crucial when you are playing with only four bowlers.

All aspects of the Indian bowling came together as a sum of parts on day two. This is the best Test attack to come out of the country – period. Some might argue that they haven’t helped the team win anything of note yet. Well, they have tried – 60 wickets in three Tests in South Africa and 82 out of 90 wickets on offer in five Tests in England. They have done their job to the hilt in 2018, and anyone who has seen India play overseas cricket this year knows that the bowling isn’t at fault.

And this is the one given with which the Indian team arrived in Australia too. When people talked them up as favourites, it wasn’t because they had Virat Kohli or believed other batsmen could step up, no. It was in the might of the Indian pacers and the guile possessed by Ashwin that they thought this team would win a Test series on Australian soil.

Day one might have jolted that notion, but day two re-affirmed that the bowlers could still do their bit irrespective of conditions. There was only one passage of play when things got away from them – at the end when Travis Head added 50 runs with Pat Cummins for the seventh wicket.

In hindsight, with Ashwin bowling with the second new ball, it was the need of that hour to keep one pacer running and not hand it over to Murali Vijay for a few overs. Perhaps the seamers were indeed running out of gas, but in a four-bowler attack, it is expected that one of them will be stretched.

Getting rid of the tail has been a problem. That is one correction this Indian attack needs to bring about on day three as there are still 59 runs to play with.