New Delhi, March 23 (IANS) India's hopes of a 4-0 whitewash of Australia were somewhat dented by off-spinner Nathan Lyon's third fifer and the last Test of the series goes into the third day Sunday all square with the visitors having a happy thought of bowling last on a dicey pitch.
Lyon finished with five for 94 to leave India at 266 for eight and an inconsequential lead of four runs at the close of play Saturday at the Ferozeshah Kotla. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was batting on 10 as play ended with the dismissal of Ravichandran Ashwin (12), Lyon's fifth victim. Australia's tail wagged a little more on resumption this morning to take their first innings to a competitive 262.
India's innings was a rerun of all their previous innings in the series. A rollicking 108-run start by openers and then the familiar collapse to lose eight wickets for only a further 158 runs.
On a bright sunny day, Lyon made the best use of the cracks on the Kotla track, triggering the collapse. It was the fourth consecutive time that India messed up a solid start.
The only difference was in the last three Tests, the collapse came after some record stands. But here, the Indian batting stumbled after openers Cheteshwar Pujara (52) and Murali Vijay (57) gave them a dream start under the circumstances, going for lunch at 59. And at 180 for five, there were doubts whether they could even get a first-innings lead.
It was left to Ravindra Jadeja (43), who came into the side essentially as a batting all-rounder, and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (24) to pull them out of the hole.
A weekend turnout of some 20,000 spectators got an exciting day's play, but not dominated by India. Instead, they had a wonderful exhibition of bowling by Lyon, who was surprisingly dropped from the second Test after his 4-244 in Chennai.
Lyon not only got the ball to spin but also bounce. At the other end fast bowlers Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Mitchell Johnson kept the batsmen guessing varying the pace and length and using the bouncer to good effect, mixing the slower short-pitched delivery.
The second spinner in the side, Glenn Maxwell, was missed at the bowling crease as he was off the field with the Delhi belly and when he came on to bowl late in the afternoon his delivery caused more concern to the batsmen to bat in the second innings. The ball shot through to trap Ashwin legbefore.
Lyon began his demolition castling Pujara with a beauty and in his next over he had Virat Kohli (1) plumb in front.
Sachin Tendulkar (32) walked in next and was greeted by a huge roar from the crowd, hoping to see a big innings, perhaps for the last time in the national capital. He was lucky to survive a big shout by Lyon for legbefore and also some inspired stuff from Johnson to go for tea at 135 for two.
Immediately after the break, Tendulkar tried to break the shackles with two consecutive fours in the first over of Siddle. He showed signs of getting back his old mojo with his crisp timing after a slow start. After hitting five crisp fours, his innings was cut short by another lbw shout by Lyon.
Siddle got the key wicket of Vijay with a snorter that took the opener's glove on way to Matthew Wade behind.
Ajinkya Rahane's debut ended in a soft dismissal. He only managed seven before gloving a Lyon off-break to backward short-leg Steve Smith.
When Australia resumed their innings, Lyon's counterpart Ashwin bagged his ninth fifer, and fourth in the series.
Resuming at overnight 231/8, the visitors added 31 runs with Siddle emerging the top scorer with 51, his maiden half-century, before becoming Ashwin's fifth victim(5/57).
Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha also completed at last found his 100th Test wicket, dismissing Pattinson (30) caught at first-slip.
(Abhishek Roy can be contacted at email@example.com)