Earlier today, Day 2 of the second India-Australia Test match at Adelaide came to an end after a few sessions of good cricket.
India had a solitary wicket standing from their exploits on Day 1, which was cleaned up on the very first ball of the day. Overall, the visitors made 250 runs from 88 overs.
Australia then came in to bat but were met by a very disciplined Indian bowling attack that not only bowled according to the conditions but also brought out the shortcomings of some of the hosts' batsmen. Eventually, they ended the day at an underwhelming 191/7, also from exactly 88 overs.
Travis Head, batting on 61, will continue with Mitchell Starc and the rest of the tailenders on Day 3 now.
Let us cut to the chase and discuss some important talking points at the close of Day 2's play:
#1. Australia's snail-like scoring pace
2.17 is Australia's run-rate in the innings so far. They crawled all the way to 191 runs in the 88 overs that were bowled at them today, which is not even close to Australian standards - especially considering it's their own backyard they are playing in.
Credit should be given to the Indian bowlers for doing their work very well, which will be discussed in detail soon.
Usman Khawaja took 124 balls to score his 28 runs before he was dismissed on his 125th, and Peter Handscomb made 34 off 93 balls. The duo played so slowly that it made everyone wonder when was the last time Australia had produced such snail-paced knocks.
It should be understood that the Kangaroos knew very well what they were doing - they adapted well enough to the conditions at play, which were suited to bowling more than batting. And had it not been for the wickets they kept losing at regular intervals, they may have been in line for a much bigger first innings total than what is in sight for them right now.
Travis Head also deserves praise for not losing his head amidst a falling run-rate, and for holding on to give the hosts some hope on Day 3. But more on that later.
#2. Indian pacers rising to the occasion
If Day 1 saw the Australian pace bowlers putting in a disciplined, clockwork-like effort, the day that followed was mostly about Indians returning the favor.
In the beginning, it was all Ishant Sharma, who cleaned up Aaron Finch for nought off just the third ball of the Aussie innings. It was a length ball that dipped inwards, and Finch tried to chase his Indian counterparts via the "driving" route. The ball caught his bat's inside edge and deviated to clip the middle and leg stumps.
Though the pace department's next scalp came 57 overs later, they then proceeded to remove a couple of more wickets before the day's play ended.
Ishant and Jasprit Bumrah took two wickets apiece, bowling down 15 and 20 overs respectively at economy rates even lower than Australia's run rate. Apart from the important wickets of Finch, Pete Handscomb and Tim Paine, the duo also helped in restricting the Aussie batsmen's freedom to score runs, by bowling consistently at a very neat line and length.
Only Mohammad Shami went wicketless, and he also conceded just a bit more than 3 runs per over, which is not bad in the general scheme of things. In fact, Shami's line and length played a significant role in upsetting the batsmen as the bowlers kept being shuffled around, and so did their lengths.
#3. Ashwin's skill against left-handed batsmen
While the pacers tried to work their way around some dogged resistance by the likes of Khawaja and Handscomb, Ashwin's off-spin at the other end gave the Indians a deserving reward for all the effort - wickets.
Ashwin removed all the three important left-handed batsmen on Day 2 - Khawaja, Marcus Harris and Shaun Marsh. With that, his wickets tally increased to 339 - 179 of southpaws and 160 of right-handers.
Ashwin's wily variations and ample spin made the batsmen resort to defensive methods, which initially provided the pacers ample breathing space. The fast men extracting some purchase out of the track then started making Ashwin look like the "hit-worthy" bowler, and the Aussie lefties fell for the bait hook, line and sinker.
All three of them returned to the hut while trying to go for their shots against Ashwin. As the pitch wears out further on Days 3, 4 and 5, Ashwin's (and also Nathan Lyon's) spin capabilities could become a deciding factor in the game.
#4. Australian batsmen throwing away their good starts
Among the four batsmen who reached double-figures for the hosts were Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb, all of them in the top-order. And for Australia to emerge clear leaders in the first innings, it was essential that at least a couple of top order batsmen stayed on for as long as they could.
Harris, on his debut, looked comfortable enough during his stay - even against the likes of Ashwin, who is one of the most experienced spinners in the circuit right now. On more than one occasion he shifted to his backfoot to drive Ashwin through the covers, and that was really encouraging for the Aussie camp.
But when Ashwin changed his length up a bit and started attacking the stumps, Harris merely tried to repeat the shot and edged straight to slip.
A similar situation happened with Khawaja as well, again with Ashwin - after the former had played down nearly 21 overs by himself to make 28 runs. Khawaja played a needless shot, and the ball caught his bat by the turn and flew straight to Rishabh Pant.
Up next was Handscomb, who was Australia's top scorer until Travis Head overtook him at a later stage. Handscomb fell prey to Bumrah while trying to run down a back-of-the-length ball, again to Pant.
Had any one or more of these batsmen prevailed at the crease for a bit longer, it might have done a lot to raise the hosts' hopes of opening the series with a win.
#5. Travis Head's rescue attempt
While Australia won numerous battles against the Indian batsmen by inviting them to try and drive at moving balls, India did not do much of that at one point and overdid it at another point, after Handscomb and Tim Paine departed in quick succession.
But it failed to work towards the end of the day, as Travis Head batted sensibly, also offering lessons in batting to his predecessors on the score-sheet. At the close of play he was unbeaten, at 61 off 149 balls. Six times he made boundary shots, while the rest of the runs (37) were achieved through smart running between the wickets.
Much of Australia's attacking intent came from Head's positive stroke-play, as the local boy brought up his first 50 at home. His innings was laden with some very clever shots. He also displayed good resilience as Kohli brought in several bowling variations, especially after the tea break.
If it was Cheteshwar Pujara on Day 1 for India, on Day 2 it was Head who was the saviour for a team suffering suffering a mighty collapse. With Mitchell Starc for company on Day 3, he will definitely look to progress even further.
Starc once made 99 against India, so if he plays the supporting role well, Head may be poised to wreak more damage on to the visitors.