There did not appear to be any rough patches on the pitch, yet Australia folded for just 263 in the first innings on the first day of the second Test here at the Ferozeshah Kotla grounds of the Arun Jaitley Stadium.
But the below-par score, better than their 177 and 91 in the first Test in Nagpur, does give the visiting team some cushion to fight. India ended Day One at 21 without loss, still 242 runs adrift but with 10 wickets in hand.
For a change, the Australians started the Test on a positive note with the openers putting on 50 runs for the first wicket before David Warner (15) was scalped by Mohammad Shami (4/60) through a delivery that moved away and took the outer edge of the bat.
Usman Khawaja (81 runs), on whom a lot of Australian hopes rest as he is the in-form batsman and one who can handle spin better than most in his camp, continued to build the innings with No. 3 Marnus Labuschagne.
But just as the two were looking to take Australia to lunch with safety, R Ashwin (3/57) struck twice in one over.
The off-spinner, who has bagged over 450 Test wickets, got Labuschagne’s (18) leg before and then got Steve Smith (0) to edge one to India wicketkeeper KS Bharat.
The Aussies were on the back-foot again and when Travis Head (12), who was drafted in place of the Matt Renshaw, fell to a rash shot off Shami, it was déjà vu. The stadium roared and it looked like India will wrap up Australia soon for a score below 200.
The Pakistan-born Khawaja, who was batting with control and managed to survive a dismissal decision on review, worked the ball around well, employing the reverse sweep with great confidence. He and Peter Handscomb (72 not out) put on the innings’ second half-century partnership, adding 59 for the fifth wicket before the reverse sweep turned out to be the left-hander’s undoing.
Khawaja had struck the reverse sweep well off Ravindra Jadeja (3/68) but KL Rahul threw himself in the air and held onto the catch at point. The India opener continued his celebratory dash towards the point boundary in ecstasy as Khawaja sat on one knee, smiling wryly at his luck.
One wicket led to another and Alex Carey fell soon to Ashwin.
Australia skipper Pat Cummins added 59 with Handscomb, hitting two sixes in his score of 33. His partnership with Handscomb took Aussies to beyond 200 and even though he was out with the score on 227, the right-handed Handscomb pushed Australia beyond 250 with the tail. It proved to be yet another day of lost opportunities for Australia.
The Australian bowlers, however, couldn’t do much to rattle the Indian openers who got nine overs to play. Skipper Rohit Sharma was not out on 13, surviving once on review, and Rahul was unbeaten on four.