Crumbling ground beneath their feet


Australian skipper Michael Clarke stood staring at the pitch long after he had fallen to a Ravichandran Ashwin delivery, one that had taken a long and urgent right turn towards the stumps. Clarke had anticipated meeting the ball at hip-height but it merely reached his knees. The man who seemed to have mastered the dusty Chepauk pitch in the first innings had misread the bounce by at least a foot in the second.

The spot that conned Clarke wasn't the only grey area on the pitch. On either side of him were unpredictable patches that had foxed batsmen who were now resting in the Aussie dressing room. The scuffed up surface on his right had accounted for Shane Watson. The right-handed stand-in opener, padding up first as David Warner was dealing with a minor illness, had thought that Ashwin's flighted ball would reach his shin after pitching. But it actually rose to kiss his gloves and balloon into Virender Sehwag's hands at slips.

To Clarke's left was an abrasive depression which if captured on film could be passed off as an image beamed down by Hubble. The crater, the size of a dart board, had abruptly ended number four bat Phillip Hughes' stay at the crease. As was expected, left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja had placed the ball in the rough outside left-hander Hughes' off-stump. Having seen the labyrinth of cracks on the broken soil, Hughes expected the ball to rise to his rib cage. Not sure if he underestimated Jadeja or if it was the surface, but the ball rocketed to his face. As Hughes came up with an instinctive act of defence, the ball once again took the glove before reaching Sehwag in the cordon.

Dazed and confused

The fourth day wear-and-tear on the pitch was acting up and the Indians had the resources plus the skills to exploit the conditions. The Australian batsmen, following Mahendra Singh Dhoni's assault, were too dazed and tired to take the ultimate test — facing three spinners on a rapidly breaking wicket. Coaches talk about playing with soft hands, rotating the strike and punishing the loose balls on a pitch with variable bounce. Watson, Warner, Cowan and Clarke all played by the book but on this Day Four Chepauk pitch, there was always that unplayable ball lurking around the corner, always emerging unannounced.

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