Smith, O’Keefe put Australia 298 runs ahead of India at stumps (Roundup)

Pune, Feb 24 (IANS) Left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe’s career-best six-wicket haul and skipper Steve Smith’s half century helped Australia take a commanding lead of 298 runs as they reached 143/4 in their second innings at stumps on the second day of the opening cricket Test at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium here on Friday.

Smith, who was dropped thrice on 23, 29 and 37, was unbeaten on 59 with all-rounder Mitchell Marsh giving him company on 21 when the umpires dislodged the bails for the day.

For India, off-spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Jayant Yadav shared the four wickets, with the Chennai tweaker claiming three while Yadav chipped in with one in the visitors’ second innings.

Resuming the post-tea session at 46/2, Smith and Jose Handscomb (19) added 15 runs to the total before the latter was caught by Murali Vijay at leg gully off Ashwin in the 21st over.

Handscomb’s dismissal brought in Matt Renshaw (31), who with the skipper forged a 52-run partnership for the fourth wicket and helped the visitors get past the 100-run mark.

Just when things were going smoothly for the visitors, Yadav struck with the wicket of Renshaw, caught by Ishant Sharma at long-off to leave Australia at 113/4 after 35 overs.

Incoming batsman Marsh along with Smith then batted the remaining overs of the day with caution as the visitors went off with a lead of 298 runs in the second innings.

Earlier, after bowling India out for a paltry 105, Australia scored 46/2, taking their lead to 201 runs.

Openers David Warner (10) and Shaun Marsh (0) failed to provide the kind of start Australia were looking for with Warner being adjudged leg before wicket on the final ball of the very first over by Ashwin.

Marsh, who was promoted to open the innings, too failed to step up to the occasion as he too was adjudged leg before wicket by Ashwin after consuming 21 balls for his duck.

With the Australians struggling at 23/2 after seven overs, Smith and Handscomb stabilised the innings with an unbeaten 23-run stand for the third wicket going in for the tea break.

Meanwhile, resuming the post-lunch session at 70/3, the home side never looked in contention as they surrendered their remaining seven wickets meekly for 35 runs.

The 32nd over saw a complete turnaround of the match when O’Keefe took three wickets to have the hosts struggling at 95/6.

The first one to go was Lokesh Rahul (64), the highest scorer in India’s innings. Ajinkya Rahane (13), who forged a 50-run partnership for the fourth wicket with Rahul, was next to depart.

Bengal wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha (0), who came in with half the team back in the pavilion, was also sent packing in the same over.

The lower-middle order comprising Ravichandran Ashwin (1), Ravindra Jadeja (2), Jayant Yadav (2) and Umesh Yadav (4) also fell prey in similar fashion to the tweakers.

Besides O’Keefe’s 6/35, pacer Mitchell Starc scalped two wickets for 38 runs while Jose Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon took a wicket each.

After bowling Australia out for 260 in their first essay, India started their innings on a steady note in the first session of play.

But after six overs, Murali Vijay, who was playing the ball on its merit, lost his concentration and was caught behind the stumps. He was dismissed by medium pacer Jose Hazlewood with just 26 runs on the board.

Cheteshwar Pujara (6), who came in next could add only 17 runs with Rahul before the Saurashtra right-hander was sent packing in the 15th over by Starc.

Starc once again stroke in the same over to get the prized scalp of India skipper Virat Kohli (0) and reduce the hosts to 44/3.

Incoming batsman Ajinkya Rahane and Rahul then stabilised the innings and played intelligently. Both batsmen forged a 26-run partnership in 11 overs before umpires called for the break.

With Australia in the driver’s seat with a lead of 298 runs, it will depend on the Indian spinners to restrict the visitors cheaply on a slow and low pitch.

–IANS

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