March 25, 2017 - 5:42pm
Australia's captain Steven Smith motored to his third century of the series - one of only six visiting batsmen to score that many in India - but was left without significant top-order support, as the Indian debutant Kuldeep Yadav weaved a wrist spinner's web around the tourists on the first afternoon of the decisive fourth Test in Dharamsala.
Virat Kohli was reduced to drinks duties for India but it was his replacement Kuldeep who changed the complexion of the day after Smith and his deputy David Warner had sprinted to 131 for 1 at lunch. Turning the ball sharply both ways while maintaining an immaculate length and line, Kuldeep recalled the problems created for the Australians by another left-arm wrist spinner in Sri Lanka last year - Lakshan Sandakan.
The Dharamsala pitch offered pace and bounce for both fast men and spinners to exploit, and it was the fresher fingers of Kuldeep that were best able to take full advantage rather than either Ravindra Jadeja or R Ashwin. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who replaced Ishant Sharma, and Umesh Yadav had both found new-ball movement before Smith took control of proceedings with some help from Warner.
After India's stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane lost the toss, Bhuvneshwar's very first ball of the match swerved away from Warner at drivable length. Warner chased it and edged, but the chance was grassed when Karun Nair could get only one hand to it.
That incident was a necessary stroke of luck Warner needed after a largely barren series, and after Renshaw was beaten and bowled by a Umesh delivery that straightened down the line, he and Smith were quickly into stride by using the extra pace and bounce offered up by Dharamsala's hard pitch and thinner atmosphere.
Smith wasted little time to get moving, capitalising on any errors in line or length and at one point miscuing a hook at Umesh, so eager was he to get after the bowling. On another day the ball might have plopped into the gloves of Wriddhiman Saha, but here it fell safely as fortune favoured the brave.
Warner was a little more sluggish after that early chance, covering up in defence to ensure he did not miss any of Bhuvneshwar's inswingers, and on one occasion cuffing a boundary over the slips when trying to avoid a short ball. The arrival of spin helped Warner build momentum, as the Dharamsala surface offered the odd bit of spin but otherwise played in a friendly fashion in the morning session.
Kuldeep's left-arm wrist spin was called upon for a pair of overs before the lunch interval, but he too was struck for boundaries as Smith and Warner set a highly promising platform for the tourists. Kohli watched from the sidelines, having ruled himself out of the match before play after it was decided that his right shoulder was not 100% right.
Rahane and his bowlers reset their plans during the interval, focusing on greater economy while encouraging Kuldeep to maintain a full length and test Australia's batsmen on the drive. Warner seemed preoccupied with trying to cut or force off the back foot, and in trying to do so from a delivery well pitched up he succeeded only in edging to slip.
Shaun Marsh, so stubborn in the second innings in Ranchi, flicked limply at an Umesh delivery and was taken down the leg side cheaply, before Peter Handscomb was out to a lovely piece of bowling from Kuldeep. The ball was tossed up and slower, drifting enough to drag Handscomb's bat away from his pad and then breaking back through the gap to splay the stumps.
Glenn Maxwell thought himself capable of muscling Kuldeep out of the attack and managed one lofted boundary, but he too was unable to be sure of which way the ball was turning. Two balls after reaching the rope, he went back to what he thought was a stock ball and instead found himself beaten and bowled by a googly.
Smith's earlier rapid scoring had slowed, and it was a subdued celebration on reaching three figures. He seemed likely to shepherd Matthew Wade to the tea break, but with five minutes to go edged an Ashwin drifter to slip, the ball after Wade had sneaked a bye from a ball that turned expansively.