Australia couldn’t survive to stumps after winning the toss and electing to bat first in Delhi, bowled out for 263 on day one of the second Test against India.
Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb registered fifties while Indian seamer Mohammed Shami was the pick of the bowlers with four wickets.
After his shock axing in Nagpur, Travis Head earned a recall, while Queensland spinner Matthew Kuhnemann became Australia’s 466th men’s Test cricketer after receiving his baggy green.
The hosts were 0-21 at stumps, still trailing by 242 runs.
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WARNER ‘IN A LITTLE BIT OF TROUBLE’
David Warner’s Test career is hanging by a thread after another failure with the bat on Friday.
The veteran opener scratched his way towards 15 before falling victim to Shami in the 16th over – the Indian seamer delivered an absolute peach from around the wicket, getting the ball to nip away from the left-hander, who feathered a catch through to wicketkeeper Srikar Bharat.
It was Warner’s highest score of the series to date, having registered 1 and 10 in the series opener in Nagpur.
Warner’s susceptibility to pace from around the wicket has plagued the 36-year-old since Stuart Broad tormented him throughout the 2019 Ashes series. His lack of Test runs in India is also cause for concern – he has mustered 414 runs in 19 innings at a disappointing average of 21.78.
Speculation about Warner’s spot in the Test side erupted earlier this summer, but the New South Welshman silenced his critics with an emphatic 200 against South Africa in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.
Unfortunately, that marathon knock is starting to look more like an outlier rather than a long-awaited return to form – it remains his only Test century over the last three years.
Besides the remarkable double-century against the Proteas, Warner’s most recent Test knocks are 15, 10, 1, 10, 3, 0, 28, 21, 48, 5, 24, and 5, 10* and 25.
“I think he’s in a little bit of trouble, David Warner,” former Test all-rounder Brendon Julian said on Fox Cricket.
“I know he missed out on the first Test match and he made that great 200 at the MCG. But I don’t know. I just think second innings, is he under a little bit of pressure here?”
Australian legend Allan Border continued: “And you’ve still got to produce, even though he’s built up a lot of coupons.
“All the talk would’ve been about how he copes with the spin bowlers in India. Everyone is vulnerable. You’ve always got to keep producing.
“It’s just looking like he’s a yard behind the ball to me.
“If you walk out in the second innings and get rolled and lose the Test match, all of a sudden the selectors think, ‘We might have to start planning for the future a bit more’. And given his last Tour of England was a horror, they might be thinking, ‘This is the time’.”
It remains unlikely that national selectors would drop Warner in India considering his experience and raw talent, but murmurs about his place in the Test side will only grow in volume unless he rediscovers some form in the second innings.
Australian captain Pat Cummins threw his full support behind Warner ahead of the Delhi Test.
“You saw this year at the Boxing Day Test when he puts pressure back on the opposition he’s pretty hard to bowl to. You don’t get as many good balls, so he knows that. I’m sure that’d be part of his plan,” Cummins told reporters on Thursday.
“He has been batting really well here. Even in the lead-up I thought he was fantastic.
“I know there’s a lot of talk about spin bowling through the middle, but with that new ball it’s sometimes the hardest time to bat as well.”
Warner was not on the field when the Indian innings got underway late in the evening session, with a Cricket Australia spokesman revealing he was feeling unwell following repeated blows to his body while batting.
KHAWAJA’S SIX-YEAR INDIA REDEMPTION
Khawaja was the hero for Australia on day one of the Delhi Test, peeling off a gritty 81 — his highest Test score against India — to ensure the visitors posted a defendable total in the first innings.
It was anything but a flawless innings from the veteran left-hander, who was aided by a couple of lucky DRS calls and a dropped catch at short leg.
Khawaja briefly thwarted India’s classy bowling attack at Arun Jaitley Stadium before falling victim to Ravindra Jadeja in the afternoon session, attempting a reverse sweep that was caught superbly by KL Rahul at point.
It was only a few years ago that Khawaja was pigeonholed as a batter incapable of scoring runs in the subcontinent. After a successful home summer against South Africa and Pakistan in 2016/17, Khawaja was dropped ahead of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in India a couple of months later, with Australian selectors preferring all-rounder Mitchell Marsh.
The Queenslander was recalled for the first Test against Bangladesh in 2017, but axed once again after registering scores of 1 and 1 in Mirpur. Khawaja suddenly averaged 14.62 after five Tests in Asia with a high score of 26.
National selectors would have been tempted to drop Khawaja again ahead of the 2018 Test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, but Australia’s top order was desperate for experienced players following the ball-tampering saga.
Khawaja’s career-defining 141 in Dubai proved a turning point – since that heroic knock against Pakistan, he has averaged 79.08 with the bat in Asia, peeling off three centuries and five fifties in nine Tests.
The 36-year-old’s redemption in Asia is living proof a young cricketer shouldn’t be branded a home-track bully after a handful of failures in the subcontinent.
HANDSCOMB ‘STRANDED’ AFTER SELECTION MASTERSTROKE
The Australian selectors have copped plenty of criticism over the last couple of weeks, but credit where it’s due — recalling Peter Handscomb has proven a masterstroke.
The Victorian scored a classy 72 not out in the first innings in Delhi, combining with captain Pat Cummins for a 59-run partnership for the seventh wicket to frustrate India’s bowlers in the evening session.
It was Handscomb’s first Test fifty since September 2017, ending a 14-innings streak of low scores in Australian whites.
Handscomb is coming off a prolific home summer in the Sheffield Shield, accumulating 571 runs at 81.57 in five matches for Victoria, headlined by an unbeaten 281 against Western Australia at Junction Oval.
After four years out of the Test side, Handscomb earned a Test recall ahead of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, scoring a patient 31 in the first innings of last week’s series opener to stem the flow of wickets in Nagpur.
But Friday’s knock in Delhi was validation for national selectors, who had taken a gamble on Handscomb with their brave horses-for-courses selection.
The right-hander was patient in the middle, rarely losing focus or misjudging a delivery. He respected the good balls and pushed the bad ones into gaps in the field, rotating the strike with ease.
“This is a very, very important innings for Peter Handscomb’s Test career … well played,” former Australian batter Mark Waugh said in commentary.
“This has been such a solid innings. He’s put a high price on his wicket, he’s protecting that castle like its vital.”
Handscomb oozed class on day one, and Australia would be tempted to elevate him up the batting order in the second innings, particularly considering he was left stranded with the tail.
“I would think about swapping Handscomb and Head in the order,” commentator Gerard Whateley said on SEN.
“Head doesn’t need time, he will attack, Pete is a grafter and he will be stranded here again.”
SHOULD AUSSIES HAVE ABANDONED ‘BLUEPRINT’?
Did Australia make a mistake picking three strike spinners for the Delhi Test? For a brief moment on Friday morning, it certainly seemed that was the case.
For the first time since 2017, Australia selected a trio of turners for a Test match – Kuhnemann was handed his baggy green to become the country’s 466th men’s Test cricketer, accompanying Nathan Lyon and Todd Murphy in the starting XI. Cummins was the lone seamer, with all-rounder Cameron Green unavailable for selection with a finger injury.
Ahead of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Cummins and coach Andrew McDonald emphatically declared that Australia could not pick three strike spinners unless Green was fit and available to bowl, but after assessing the conditions at Arun Jaitley Stadium, Australian selectors took a gamble.
“It’s a bit unusual going the three spin and one quick. We feel the pitch here, the conditions, we feel that spin will dominate the game once again,” national selector Tony Dodemaide told reporters on Friday.
“From what we understand this pitch has been used three times already this year and there’s already substantial cracking in the areas where most of the game is going to be played. That’s the reason for going for the three spinners.”
However, Dodemaide and the selection panel may have been questioning their decision after watching the opening 30 minutes unravel in Delhi.
Shami and Mohammed Siraj unearthed a surprising amount of bounce with the new ball on Friday morning, with the wicket offering plenty of assistance for the quicks. It was a stark contrast to last week’s pitch in Nagpur, where short-pitched bowling was a rarity.
Warner was troubled by Siraj on multiple occasions, hitting the veteran opener on the helmet and the elbow to leave the left-hander in noticeable discomfort. The 36-year-old eventually departed for 15 after Shami got a delivery to nip away off the surface, kissing the outside edge and carrying through to wicketkeeper Srikar Bharat.
Shami, who finished with 4-60 from 14.4 overs, returned in the afternoon session to remove Travis Head, edging the ball towards second slip where KL Rahul claimed a smart catch. Once again, the delivery had seamed away noticeably from the left-hander.
However, the Delhi wicket will behave very differently over the weekend, with the dry pitch expected to take plenty of turn on days three and four.
The deck was already assisting spinners in the morning session on day one, with Ravichandran Ashwin’s dismissal of Marnus Labuschagne turning past the inside edge.
Six of Australia’s wickets fell to spin — Lyon, Murphy and Kuhnemann will be licking their lips at the prospect of bowling on this deck in the fourth innings.
Former Test batter Matthew Hayden declared he didn’t approve of the Australian XI in commentary, but confessed it was the “right team for these conditions”.
“There’s been a blueprint for Australia, and it’s always been to play three quicks, a good quality spinner and an all-rounder,” Hayden said.
WORRYING LBW TREND EMERGES
Why can’t Australia’s batters get their pads out of the way in the subcontinent?
It’s becoming a worrying trend for Australia’s top order, with 19 wickets falling to LBW in their two most recent Tests in Asia.
During last year’s second Test against Sri Lanka, nine of the 20 dismissals were leg before, with debutant Prabath Jayasuriya wreaking havoc on a turning pitch in Galle.
And that trend continued in Nagpur last week, where 10 Australian wickets were LBW in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series opener against India. Khawaja, Peter Handscomb and Matthew Renshaw were each trapped on the pads in both innings at Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium, utterly outclassed by Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
“The last couple of Test matches in Asia, which was Sri Lanka and obviously Nagpur, got out a lot to LBW, got out a lot missing on the inside,” Julian said on Fox Cricket.
Border continued: “It’s a common problem with all our batsmen. You’re just expecting the ball to turn consistently and occasionally pitches will do that.
“On spinning wickets they’re the most dangerous balls, the ones that go straight on. That’s the one you’ve got be really playing for and if it turns past the outside edge, then so be it.
“We’ve got to be a bit more aggressive as in the use of the feet and really watch the ball out of the hands as close as you can.”
Marnus Labuschagne fell victim to LBW on Friday, but in all fairness, it was an excellent delivery from Ashwin, who got the ball to spin viciously off the deck and beat the right-hander’s inside edge.
In the evening session, Cummins played all around a Jadeja delivery, also trapped on the front pad.
— with Andrew Jackson
Originally published as Usman Khawaja’s six-year redemption while David Warner ‘in a little bit of trouble’ — Day 1 Talking Points