Spinner triggers Indians collapse with a first five-for before Khawaja puts Australia ahead

Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis may be Australian sport’s resident ‘special Ks’ – but for the Test team on Day 1 in Indore, it was two different Ks that gave the tourists their best day by far on a difficult tour of India.

First it was Matt Kuhnemann who ripped through the Indian batting lineup to finish with a five-wicket opener in his second Test as the hosts collapsed to 109; then it was Usman Khawaja with a second elegant half-century of the series that led Australia to an already threatening first innings.

Four wickets from Ravindra Jadeja kept India in the game but an unusually poor performance from spin partner Ravichandran Ashwin allowed Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne to lead Australia to a 47-run lead with six wickets in hand.

Kuhnemann reaped the rewards of a pitch that took a significant turn from the opening games, ensuring Australia did not pay full price for a remarkable start to the Test that saw reigning captain Steve Smith twice decide the appeals against Rohit Not considering Sharma who would have done so had the Indian captain gone without a shot on goal.

Khawaja, meanwhile, was the only hitter all day to truly tame the surface, blunting Ashwin and Jadeja with a meticulous defense and the odd attacking swing, with his first miss against deep fielder Shubman Gill for 60. With runs so hard to come by throughout the day, the innings were already worth their weight in gold.

After Rohit and Shubman Gill, recalled for KL Rahul, recovered from that chaotic opening and put up 26 runs in the first five overs, Kuhnemann needed just six balls to strike; Rohit lured down the pitch, the ball viciously spinning past his outside edge and presenting the easiest stumbling block to Alex Carey.

When the Queenslander found Gill’s outside edge for an easy Smitch catch on the slip, India were 2/34 and suddenly in trouble.

Their worries deepened when Nathan Lyon smashed through Cheteshwar Pujara with a nearly unplayable ball that ricocheted outward and twisted to the stump of the leg.

Jadeja has been a thorn in Australia’s side so many times that Jadeja mustered just four, immediately following an LBW pardon after a successful review by putting Lyon straight under cover.

The catcher? Kuehnemann, of course.

The 26-year-old, who was only added to the squad midway through the series, could do no wrong as Shreyas Iyer lugged one of his more benign supplies back onto his own stumps to leave India 5/44 and in distress.

After threatening a return to form in the first two Tests, Virat Kohli tried to turn the tide with a crisp batting game, the veteran’s footwork reminiscent of his brilliant best time as he lunged at everything from Lyon and Kuhnemann was loose.

However, there’s a reason why Australia chose to play three spinners again; Todd Murphy, introduced into the attack, immediately looked far more troubling for the Indian maestro.

He pinned him down with relentless accuracy, more so than any demons off the court, and won a battle of patience with Kohli, who finally went wrong when a faster Murphy bid held a touch low, smacking his attempted punch to the leg and punching him straight forward .

A desperate check would prove fruitless; After Kohli’s rescue operation was called off at 22, normal service was quickly resumed. If you needed a sign that Australia’s fortunes had turned, it came when Smith sent up an LBW scream this time against KS Bharat, who found the ball slamming into the stump of the leg and another poor decision from referee Nitin Menon confirmed on a tough day.

7/84 at lunch, India still had the dangerous low-order pair of Ashwin and Axar Patel to save the innings. However, Ashwin became Kuhnemann’s fourth scalp after a sharp Turner clawed through his outside edge to Carey; When Umesh Yadav’s lucky batting ended in another LBW after two sixes and 17 carries, the Queenslander had a well-deserved five.

The Aussies didn’t even have to get past Patel, their nemesis with two half centuries in his only two innings of the series; Number 11 Mohammed Siraj didn’t understand the urgency of getting his partner the bat until it was too late and ran comfortably on the non-striker’s end.

As expected, Travis Head came out with all guns in response but only lasted six balls for 9 before Jadeja caught him up front and needed the DRS to confirm the wicket after a Menon-like howl from fellow umpire Joel Wilson.

From then on, however, it was all Australia as Khawaja and Labuschagne assembled the most crowd-prolific stand of the series, 96, to bring visitors close to India’s opening total.

From the moment the latter received a pardon after dragging Jadeja on before worrying the scorers when it was revealed the star spinner had exceeded – his third such error in the series – Labuschagne looked in command and was typical for Australia’s changed approach after their collapse in Delhi to play straight, watch the ball closely and take care of everything loose.

Jadeja continued to struggle to fall with all four Australian wickets, including finally bowling Labuschagne with a well-disguised arm ball, but he may have indirectly denied Ashwin a wicket of his own as well.

Perhaps in desperation to atone for his no-ball error, Jadeja twice convinced Rohit to review ambitious LBW calls on Khawaja, both times burning the reviews; The captain heeded Ashwin’s plea for his own LBW against Labuschagne not long after, only to find it would have been successful had he gone up.

The late flurry of wickets, with Smith falling behind for 26, left Peter Handscomb and Cameron Green to negotiate the final overs.

But certainly at 4/156 at stumps, 47 in front and on a wicket likely to get worse before it gets better, not even that could dampen the spirits of the visitors in the end after enjoying one of their best days on the subcontinent in many had experienced a year.

https://www.theroar.com.au/2023/03/01/kuhns-the-man-spinner-sparks-indian-collapse-with-maiden-five-for-before-khawaja-steers-australia-to-lead/ Spinner triggers Indians collapse with a first five-for before Khawaja puts Australia ahead


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