An inexplicable batting collapse left India staring down the barrel as left-arm spinner Steeve O’Keefe’s career-best six-wicket haul gave Australia a firm grip on the first cricket Test, in Pune on Friday.
The home team lost 7 wickets in the space of 11 runs to be bowled out for a pathetic 105, handing the momentum to the Australians, who had themselves folded for an underwhelming 260.
With a 155-run cushion on a square turner, Australia pressed home the advantage by finishing the day at 143/4 in their second innings, grabbing a lead of 298 runs on just the second day of the match.
India’s dramatic batting meltdown has left Steve Smith’s men well-placed to end the hosts’ fairytale 19 match winning streak.
If the shambolic batting was not enough, India ended up dropping several catches, three of Smith alone after R Ashwin had provided early breakthroughs in the Australian second innings.
At stumps, Smith was leading from front with an unbeaten 59-run knock and giving him company was Mitchell Marsh (21).
The day, however, belonged solely to O’Keefe, who single-handedly decimated the famed Indian line-up to snare 6 wickets for 35 runs in 13.1 overs.
Opener K L Rahul was the lone Indian batsman to pull off an innings of substance as he struck 64 off 97 balls, laced with 10 fours and a six.
It was a sensational post-lunch spell by Malaysia-born O’Keefe, who was playing only his fifth Test. His 6 wickets came off just 24 balls.
For India Ashwin had figures of 3 for 68 while Jayant Yadav finished the day with 1 for 27.
With six wickets in hand Australia will now fancy their chances of putting the target beyond India tomorrow and clinching the match on a pitch that appears to be crumbling.
The story of the day was the abject capitulation of the Indian batting order as they lost seven wickets for 35 runs in 15.1 overs in the post lunch session to be all out 65 minutes into the second period of play.
The surrender is their worst after losing 7 for 18 at Christchurch against New Zealand in 1989-90.
Apart from Rahul, only Murali Vijay (10) and Ajinkya Rahane (13) reached double figures in the Indian first innings, that commenced early in the morning following the fall of Australia’s last wicket in the first over. However, it lasted a little under three hours and 40.1 Overs. Resuming at the lunchtime score of 70 for three, India had added 24 runs when they lost wickets in a heap.
The 32-year-old O’Keefe started the downfall by dismissing well-set Rahul for 64 in the eighth over post lunch and in the same over he also scalped Ajinkya Rahane (13), and Wridhiman Saha to leave the hosts tottering at 95 for six.
Rahul was caught at long off and clutched his left shoulder while going off the field. Rahane and Saha fell to catches off sharply turning balls from the left-arm spinner.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon packed off Ashwin in the third ball of the next over at 95, caught brilliantly in the leg trap as the batsman edged the ball onto his boot.
O’Keefe then sent off Jayant Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja in successive overs to leave India at 101 for 9 and in danger of being bowled out for their lowest total by Australia at home.
But a streaky shot for four by Umesh Yadav helped the home team get past that mark of 104 in 2004 at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium.
But O’Keefe could not be denied for long as he turned one across the bat of Umesh, who edged to slip fielder Smith and the Indian innings came to an end with the last seven wickets falling like nine pins in 38 minutes.
Earlier, the hosts were in difficulties by lunch itself as they had been on the backfoot by Australia’s pace bowlers to be left struggling at 70 for three wickets.
India were put on the ropes by the lanky left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Marsh and his pace partner Josh Hazlewood before lunch.
Hazlewood, who did not use the new ball with Starc, replaced the latter and got the first breakthrough by packing off opener Murali Vijay who was caught behind for 10 with 26 on board.
Starc then came back for his second spell in place of his right-arm pace partner to snare the key wickets of Cheteshwar Pujara (6) and captain Virat Kohli (0) to leave the hosts gasping at 44 for 3.
Opener Rahul batted with composure and poise at the other end when wickets kept falling.
But all his good work was undone when he threw away his wicket which started the dramatic collapse.
When Australia batted for the second time, India opened with spinners at both ends and it was Ashwin who tasted success twice by earning leg before verdicts against both David Warner and Marsh.
The off-spinner had gone past 1983-World Cup winning captain Kapil Dev’s 37-year-old record of 63 wickets in a single season when he dismissed Mitchell Starc in the first innings.
He was, however, let down by the poor catching as Smith was dropped by Vijay at leg slip when on 27 and then by substitute Abhinav Mukund at short leg 10 runs later.
Jadeja, bowling from the end from which O’Keefe picked up all his wickets, could not take any while Jayant Yadav, brought on belatedly into the attack, dismissed Matt Renshaw for 31.
In the morning Ashwin, who had 3 for 63 in the first innings, had Starc caught at deep mid-wicket off his fifth ball.
While Ashwin ended up with three victims, Umesh Yadav was the best bowler from the home side with superb figures of 4 for 32, his best at home and second-best overall after the 5 for 93 he took against the same opponents in Perth in January 2012 on his debut.
However, the Indians’ delight at ending the Australian innings, which had bloomed due to Starc’s counter-hitting last evening, was nipped in the bud when they lost three of their top scoring batsmen within the first 15 overs.
Hazlewood removed in-form opener Vijay for 10 with a ball that moved in a shade and took the outside edge as he poked at it in the seventh over of the innings.
Starc then stunned the hosts with a double strike in the first over of his second spell.
He first packed off another in-form batsman, Cheteshwar Pujara (6), with an unplayable snorter that the batsman gloved to wicketkeeper Matthew Wade.
The lanky pacer then struck the biggest blow of the morning by removing Kohli for a second-ball duck through a catch to the slip cordon as he drove away from body.
The Indian captain was dismissed for a duck for the first time at home and for only the fifth time in his 54-Test career. He had averaged 80 plus by tallying 1457 runs in the last 13 Tests.
Brief scores: Australia 260 and 143/4 in 46 overs (Smith 59 batting; Ashwin 3/68). India 105 all out in 40.1 overs (Rahul 64; O’Keefe 6/35).