First India then Australia: neither side was able to take control on day two of the second Test in muggy Brisbane.
The visitors’ loss of six for 87 at the steady hands of Josh Hazlewood gave the hosts a better sight of the batting crease than they could have expected after day one, but a trio of wickets to the speedy Umesh Yadav left the captain Steven Smith a little shorter of support than he would have preferred. Storms threatened all day but it was ultimately poor light that brought the day to an early close.
India’s captain MS Dhoni was arguably the more content of the two captains, having made enough incisions to expect the possibility of a first innings lead on day three. Indiscriminate strokes meant that David Warner and Shane Watson both squandered strong starts, and Chris Rogers was cramped and then caught by Dhoni from the fast and hostile Umesh as refreshments were being served.
Much now rests on the shoulders of Smith, who looked in sublime touch on his way to an unbeaten 65 but also lost Shaun Marsh, for once making neither a duck nor a hundred for Australia. Warner seemed intent on replicating his twin hundreds in Adelaide, helped once again by India’s curious preference for bowling around the wicket to him.
He surged to 29 in 27 balls, but the 28th was short and fast from Umesh, prompting a miscued pull that was taken in the slips. Rogers showed sound judgement around off stump and appeared to enjoy the extra pace on the ball, while Watson played through the line with confidence after getting fortuitously off the mark when a Varun Aaron bouncer skimmed off the surface and took the shoulder of his bat.
Storm clouds were gathering around the Gabba when Dhoni introduced R Ashwin’s offbreaks, and he kept mid-on up as Watson sweated on a chance to flay the slow bowler down the ground. Dhoni was to be rewarded for this when Watson did not get all of his attempted strike, Shikhar Dhawan taking the catch and Virat Kohli screaming his delight at Australia’s disconsolate No. 3.
Rogers’ exit on the stroke of tea brought Shaun Marsh to the middle for the first time in a home Test since his horrid series against the same opposition in 2011-12, but he looked in sturdy enough touch until top edging a pull at Aaron that Rahane circled around without ever looking like he was going to take it. India’s chagrin was brief, however, as Marsh angled his bat at a rapid delivery from Umesh and was taken neatly by Ashwin in the slips, using every centimetre of his tall frame to clasp it.
Dhoni and Ashwin had contributed a useful 57-run union in the morning, but Hazlewood’s tight lines, bounce and hint of swing were justly rewarded with handsome figures that put his more experienced counterparts in the shade. The ball of the day was saved for Ajinkya Rahane, who had reached 81 and looked good for many more.
Less threatening was Mitchell Starc, who struggled notably for rhythm and confidence as Smith looked for bowling options after being shorn of Mitchell Marsh due to a hamstring problem.
The Gabba air was even heavier than it had been on day one, rain seeming imminent but staying away across the morning. Such atmospherics favoured swing, and combined with a pitch that had dried and quickened appreciably, it made for ideal pace-bowling climes.
Hazlewood was freed up from the cramps that afflicted him late on the first evening, and found nifty movement to go with his steep trajectory. Rahane was in fluent touch, and proved it by snicking a delivery that most would not have got near – Brad Haddin’s fifth dismissal out of five, on the way to equalling the Australian record with six.
Dhoni began as though intent on being an immovable object, hardly flinching when struck on the arm by Hazlewood and the shoulder by Mitchell Johnson. His barely discernible evasive action for the latter blow had the umpire Marais Erasmus calling dead ball when Dhoni ran, the pair engaging in animated discussion as a result.
Watson came on to relieve Hazlewood, and second ball drew an edge from Rohit Sharma that Smith caught brilliantly in his outstretched right hand, having initially tried to reach it with both palms. Smith’s ebullient celebration indicated his desire to cut through the Indian tail, but another indifferent spell from Starc allowed Dhoni and Ashwin to mount a pesky stand.
Australian shoulders slumped a little, but Hazlewood’s second spell of the morning brought further indications of his quality. Ashwin edged to first slip with a slightly closed bat face, and Dhoni touched a nip-backer he was trying to leave.
Aaron was pouched at short leg – by the substitute Marnus Labuschagne – in what would have been the final over of the session, and the half-hour extension was enough time for Nathan Lyon to also account for Umesh. His day was far from done though.