Canberra: A century to Virat Kohli and four wickets to R Ashwin were the highlights for the Indians on the second day of their final practice match against the Cricket Australia Chairman's XI, which was again hit by bad light.
Kohli's 171-ball 132 formed the crux of the Indians' 269, thereby shutting out any thoughts of Rohit Sharma taking his place at No. 6 come Boxing Day, and Ashwin was responsible for dismissing centurion Ed Cowan and triggering a collapse of four wickets for 30 runs in the final session.
The lone bright spot for the Chairman's XI was Cowan's century which pushed him to the brink of earning his maiden Test cap. Cowan was one of three batsman moved into this three-day fixture to allow them batting time before the national selectors name the squad for the first Test, and he timed his century perfectly.
The other two, Australia's No. 3 Usman Khawaja and a dreadfully out of form Phillip Hughes, both made starts but failed to convert. Khawaja is almost certain to hold on to his spot in the Test squad, but Hughes' rash dismissal on 20 and Cowan's excellent innings strongly indicate that David Warner could have a new opening partner when the Test series begins.
After bowling India out for 269, the Chairman's XI reply began poorly when the captain Warner was bowled by Abhimanyu Mithun for 2 in the first over. However, a 76-run stand between Cowan and Khawaja steadied proceedings. Cowan was comfortable off front foot and back, while Khawaja was profitable square of the wicket on both sides.
Zaheer Khan, whose fitness has been the subject of much scrutiny, came on to bowl the fourth over but struggled to locate his rhythm. Zaheer conceded a boundary in five of his first six overs which cost 29 runs. Umesh Yadav, India's only certified pick for the first Test, replaced Zaheer for the 16th over and was taken for two fours past cover by Cowan. However, Yadav delivered the breakthrough when he had Khawaja caught behind by MS Dhoni for 25.
That brought to the crease the embattled Hughes, who began with a flurry of boundaries off Yadav and Ashwin. However, his desire to counter-attack led to his dismissal, as an attempted slog-sweep off Ashwin was held by Dhoni.
Post tea, Cowan's footwork against spin fetched him boundaries off Pragyan Ojha as he danced out and picked the gaps at cover and mid-off. Zaheer’s second spell of four overs yielded 11 runs, with Tom Cooper driving handsomely and Cowan cashing on some short deliveries. A pull for four off Ashwin took Cowan into the nineties, and though he slowed down during the next seven overs he reached his century off 147 balls with a single to square leg. Two boundaries later, Cowan was out to Ashwin for 109, leaving the CA XI at 184 for 4.
Ashwin picked up his third wicket soon after when Alex Doolan popped a catch to Ajinkya Rahane at short leg, and a fourth didn't take much longer. Cooper, who had contributed to a 69-run stand with Cowan, was next to go for 38 when he played back to one from Ashwin that hurried on and trapped him in the crease. Then Ojha struck to bowl Cameron Boyce for 1, leaving the home team at 214 for 7 before bad light led to play being called off after 59 overs.
The day began with the Indians resuming on 162 for 4, but having steadied the innings on day one, Kohli and Rohit Sharma were unable to extend their alliance. Rohit added nine runs to his overnight score of 38 before he miscued a pull shot off Peter George to Jason Behrendorff at fine leg, ending a century stand and leaving the Indian innings at 185 for 5. Dhoni did not make an impression, driving Jon Holland’s left-arm spin to mid-on for just 3.
Kohli reached his century in the 65th over, driving Doug Bollinger for four past cover, clipping two into the off side, and bringing up three figures with a flick past midwicket. The landmark came up in 139 deliveries and 186 minutes.
When Ashwin's attempted loft also settled in mid-on's hands off Holland, the score had slipped to 227 for 7, with Kohli fast running out of partners. Kohli continued to put the bad balls away for four, and hit consecutive sixes off Holland, one carved over extra cover and the other dumped over midwicket. His innings ended on 132 when he edged Holland to the wicketkeeper Tim Ludeman.
Holland picked up his fifth wicket when he had Zaheer lbw for 4, and minutes later the innings was over when Mithun chipped Holland to mid-on. The left-arm was the most successful bowler with 6 for 70 from 18.1 overs.