Australia find formula to exploit India weaknesses
By Sudipto Ganguly
PUNE, India (Reuters) - Australia's utter dominance in Pune provided clear evidence that the touring side arrived in India armed with the tactics and personnel to beat the hosts at their own game in what promises to be a compelling four-test series.
Few would have predicted the events that unfolded in the opener, however, with top-ranked India riding a 19-test unbeaten run against a rebuilding Australian side regarded as massive underdogs by captain Steve Smith.
The odds were heavily stacked against a side that had lost their previous nine tests in Asia and suffered a 4-0 whitewash when they last toured India in 2013, but Smith and his men were in the mood to cause an upset.
"Everyone wrote us off and expected India to win 4-0," a smiling Smith told reporters after Australia had eased to a stunning 333-run victory within three days on Saturday. "That can't happen any more."
Pune was hosting a test for a first time and the bone dry pitch appeared tailor-made for India's vaunted spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to enhance their reputation as the top two bowlers in the test rankings.
Instead, it was Australian left-arm spinner Steve O'Keefe who shone the brightest of the slow bowlers, scything through India twice with identical figures of 6-35 to help dismiss the shell-shocked hosts for 105 and 107 in their two innings.
O'Keefe alone matched Ashwin and Jadeja's combined haul over both innings as he and off-spinner Nathan Lyon took all 10 Indian wickets to fall on Saturday.
The touring side were also far more proficient with the bat than the hosts, adapting better to the tricky conditions by taking fewer risks and putting away any loose deliveries.
Australia's batsmen saw out close to 182 overs in their two innings while their Indian counterparts, who grew up playing on the country's low and slow surfaces, lost all 20 wickets in just 74 overs.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Fresh and confident after morale-boosting wins with a new-look lineup over South Africa and Pakistan at home, Australia bonded at a pre-tour training camp in Dubai and honed their skills with a three-day match against India 'A' in Mumbai.
The world's second-ranked side strengthened their hand by recruiting ex-England spinner Monty Panesar and former India spinning all-rounder Sridharan Sriram to work with their slow bowlers.
There was little sign of the carnage to follow when O'Keefe failed to get anything out of the new ball on Friday morning, so he used the lunch interval to head straight to the practice nets for a session with Sriram.
Whatever they worked on paid immediate dividends in a stunning afternoon of play, which saw O'Keefe rip through India's formidable batting lineup with six wickets in the space of just 24 deliveries.
"I'd been working in the nets with some other variations, just changing the seam angle and arm angle," O'Keefe said on Friday. "You probably don't notice it, but for me it made all the difference."
After Australia's spinners took 17 wickets to out-bowl their Indian counterparts in Pune, the hosts will now be less confident of having a major advantage should they decide to produce turning tracks for the remainder of the series.
"It was up to them to prepare a wicket and they prepared a wicket that actually played into our hands," Smith said. "It would be interesting to see what they come up with come Bangalore."
Smith rated his second innings 109, a maiden ton on Indian soil, as one of the best of his 18 hundreds and was also keen to heap praise on rookie opening batsman Matt Renshaw, who amassed 99 runs in the test despite suffering from an upset stomach.
With the 20-year-old Renshaw's opening partner David Warner also due a big score, Australia will head to Bengaluru confident of being able to answer every question posed by the hosts.
(Editing by John O'Brien)