1st Test, Adelaide: Australia 117/4 at tea after R Ashwin triple-strike
R Ashwin took three of the four Australia wickets to fall on day two. (Image: BCCI)

The first Test between India and Australia at Adelaide Oval hangs in the balance after the hosts lost four wickets before tea, three to the teasing offspin of R Ashwin, to go into the break trailing by 133 runs.

With Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah struggling to gain seam movement or generate good pace, it was left to Ashwin and Ishant Sharma – who bowled Aaron Finch for zero in the first over of the innings – to try and take wickets on a second-day pitch doing little. Displaying beguiling drift and occasional sharp turn, Ashwin nipped out Australia’s two most-capped batsmen in Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh in quick time after lunch and kept posing questions of an inexperienced middle order’s technique and temperament.

LIVE SCORECARD: India vs Australia, 1st Test, Adelaide

By the time tea rolled along, Ashwin had figures of 22-4-38-3 and Australia were 117/4 in reply to India’s 250.

Ashwin cannot have fond memories of Adelaide Oval, for it was here four years ago that he was benched as a Virat Kohli-led management handed a Test debut to the wristspinner Karn Sharma – a decision which Dean Jones thinks could have cost the India the game. But in taking out the debutant Marcus Harris, Marsh and Khawaja inside 15 overs, he collected his second-best figures in a Test in Australia and kept India right in the game.

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Ashwin came on after the first hour, bowling from around the stumps, and fourth ball Harris advanced and chipped him over mid-off for three. Harris – with more than a passing resemblance to David Warner – kept stepping out, not always timing his shots. One more swish through mid-off was followed by an authoritative thump over the bowler’s head for four. Then he unfurled a pretty drive along the carpet through the covers for another boundary.

As it turned out, Ashwin got his man with a good piece of bowling. Flight, loop and turn had Harris pressing forward, the edge was taken and Murali Vijay did the rest at silly mid-off.

Marcus Harris made 26 before he was dismissed by R Ashwin
Marcus Harris made 26 before he was dismissed by R Ashwin. @AFP

Ashwin began the afternoon session by getting Marsh for the fifth time in Tests, the left-hander bowled when attempting a drive into the off side. Marsh made two from 19 balls, his fifth consecutive single-digit score in Tests – he made 7,0,3 and 4 in the UAE – to lower his Test batting average this year to 22.78. He has now gone 13 Test innings without a fifty.

Then came the big fish. On 28, Khawaja pushed limply to spinning delivery and was given out when India review the decision, as replays showed the ball had kissed his glove. Khawaja batted 125 balls, the most he has ever faced in an innings which didn’t produce a fifty.

The recalled Peter Handscomb displayed his new batting stance and hit three  boundaries off Mohammed Shami, a top edge over Rishabh Pant followed by a flowing drive past point and a twirl off the pads in what was the costliest over of the innings. After figures of 5-3-5-0, Shami was taken for 12 by Handscomb.

Picked ahead of Mitchell Marsh ostensibly because of his play against spin, Handscomb played himself in and was 33 off 82 balls at lunch. Travis Head, playing his third Test, was on an uneasy-looking 14 from 44. India wasted a review in the over before lunch when Head missed a glance down the legside, replays showing the ball brushed his thigh.

Two wickets had fallen in four balls to start the second day on a perky note, before a stubborn partnership between Harris and Khawaja carried the hosts to within 17 minutes of the lunch break. Josh Hazlewood picked up Shami first ball of the morning, caught down the leg side, and India’s 250 could have been viewed as an under-par score. But when Ishant bowled Finch for a duck third ball, under overcast skies and in humid conditions, India roared and suddenly visions of Australia’s inexperienced batting lineup crumbling were formed.

Harris and Khawaja settled in for a stabilising stand of 45 to frustrate India and put Australia in a good space until Ashwin began to make inroads. Australia’s batting has been exposed, and this Test is wide open

Ishant had figures of 12-5-17-1 at tea, the second best bowler after Ashwin.

Tea: Australia 117/4 trail India 250 by 133 runs