Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja took three big wickets each to lift India on a day when the lead fast bowler and spinner were off-key.
As expected, India again dominated Australia in spin-friendly conditions, but the two bowlers to walk off the field in Hyderabad with the plaudits were two Test rookies. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja aren't the most talented players in the current Indian Test team, but for India's benefit, the two cricketers turned in solid performances at either end of the first day in Hyderabad to lift the team when their more senior bowling team-mates had off-key days.
It can be argued that both Bhuvneshwar and Jadeja would not be playing Test cricket if not for injury and poor form to far more senior players. Had Yuvraj Singh not failed on return to the format and Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron not been sidelined by injury, Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar would probably have been watching this match on TV following the exits of Saurashtra and Uttar Pradesh from the ongoing Vijay Hazare Trophy. Neither appears a natural fit in Test cricket; Bhuvneshwar is scrawny for a new-ball bowler and Jadeja's batting looks well below par. But the pair combined well on Saturday claim the wickets of six Australian batsmen, and that could prove decisive in the final result.
Having bowled just 13 overs in Chennai, that too all in one innings with no spell lasting longer than four overs, Bhuvneshwar sent down nine consecutive overs in his first spell to take out three of Australia's top four. There was plenty of speculation between Chennai and Hyderabad about whether India would drop a pacer and bring in a fourth spinner, but come match day and the same XI was revealed at the toss. That meant India had put faith in their latest new-ball pair, a 48-Test struggler and one who was made redundant in the second innings in Chennai.
What Ishant had managed to do just once his previous 13 Tests, dating back to July 2011, Bhuvneshwar did in eight overs - take three wickets in an innings. Considering Ishant's poor record - 14 wickets in his last 12 Tests - India all the more needed Bhuvneshwar to step up and he did. His skiddly bowling did for David Warner and Ed Cowan, left handers both, and Shane Watsonm beaten by movement and back of bounce. Thereafter Bhuvneshwar trailed off in his later spells, but that that opening burst had done the damage. His ability to move the ball back into the left-handers, especially, made him more of a threat than Ishant in the morning, as the latter struggled to locate the proper length.
Australia hit back through Michael Clarke and Matthew Wade, who batted out the entire afternoon session to leave India searching for wickets. From 63 for 4 the innings was restored to 208 before Wade fell to Harbhajan Singh, the second-best spinner on the day (here too Bhuvneshwar played a hand with a diving catch at point, proving what fit young players can offer this team). With R Ashwin not in the wickets, India were reliant on Harbhajan and Jadeja to strike and it was the rookie who scalped three key wickets, including the biggest of them all.
Moises Henriques - Australia's best player of spin in Chennai after Clarke, with twin fifties on debut - was bowled by a terrific delivery that landed on leg stump and snaked past the bat hit off. Glenn Maxwell, on debut, edged one that straightened. That six-over spell ended with the wicket of Clarke for 91, the Australian captaining missing a sweep.
As he had in Chennai, especially in the second innings, Jadeja stuck to a simple method: land the ball on the stumps and strangle runs. To expect more from him at this stage would be too much. He is a bits-and-pieces cricketer with his credibility as a Test player roundly questioned. He lands the ball on a stump-to-stump line and waits more for the batsmen to err; this, considering spin has suddenly become India's strong suit this series, is just fine. Jadeja looks unlikely to run through line-ups, but if he bowls the way he did today to lift India when their lead spinner has been a bit off-key, he is doing a fine job.
Tougher days will come, against tougher opponents in tougher conditions, but given the transition that India are in the good work from fledging players like Bhuvneshwar and Jadeja means a lot.