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Steven Smith, Steve O’Keefe power Australia to victory

Pune, February 25: Inspired by an all-round effort including powerful play from Smith and O’Keefe, Australia ended India’s 19-match record unbeaten streak after thrashing the hosts by a mammoth 333 runs within three days of the opening Test at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium here on Saturday.

Playing his first Test in the sub-continent, left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe turned out to be the dark horse, taking six wickets in each innings to break the backbone of the Indian batting as Virat Kohli tasted his first defeat as skipper of all three formats.

Chasing a mammoth 441, the home side once again succumbed to the visiting spin duo of O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon to be dismissed for a paltry 107 in their second essay.

The visitors have now taken a 1-0 lead in the four-match Test series.

O’Keefe returned figures of 6/35 — the best of his nascent four-Test career while Lyon took 4/53.

O’Keefe ended up with match figures of 12/70. Earlier, in the first innings, the 32-year-old left-armer had also registered figures of 6/35 to skittle the hosts out for 105 in response to Australia’s first innings score of 260.

O’Keefe’s figures are the second best by a visiting bowler in India, behind Ian Botham’s 13/108 in Bombay 37 years ago. It is the fifth-cheapest 12-wicket haul in Test cricket.

Before coming into this match, the left-hander had 14 wickets from four Test matches after making his debut against Pakistan in Dubai two years ago.

The left-armer who went wicketless in his first few overs, said Smith’s backing helped him regain the confidence to attack the Indian batsmen.

“The first six overs were ordinary. Then I got a change of ends and from there it spun a bit more. And Steven Smith reassured me, helping me stay calm after an ordinary spell in the morning,” he said after the day’s play.

“I suppose I was just nervous, and I was trying to bowl the way I do in Australia. But made some subtle changes, got a tap on the head from Boof (Smith) in the dressing room and happy to turn things around,” he added.

O’Keefe’s feat prompted fans to draw comparison with English left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, who tormented the Indians during England’s 2-1 Test series win in 2012.

“Nice to relate to Monty because he bowls the same stuff and had some success over here and S. Sriram has also been outstanding.”

The visitors thus put an end to India’s 20-Test unbeaten streak. The last time India lost a Test match at home was in in 2012 when England registered a seven-wicket victory in Kolkata. Since then, they have won 17 Test matches and drawn three.

Saturday’s victory also saw Australia avenge their 171-run loss to India in the second Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy of 2001 which ended their 16-match world record winning streak.

The men from Down Under had lost nine consecutive Test matches in Asia before this match. Four of those were in India during their last vist in 2013, two against Pakistan in the UNited Arab Emirates (UAE) and three in Sri Lanka.

This is also India’s second biggest loss in a home Test and fourth largest overall. Their biggest loss have also been against Australia, by 342 runs in Nagpur in 2004-05.

Coming in to bat in the post-lunch session after dismissing Australia for 285, the hosts ran into trouble early in their second essay with Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul and Kohli returning to the pavilion even before the Indian total had reached the 50-run mark.

Cheteshwar Pujara — the highest scorer in India’s second innings with 31 — and Ajinkya Rahane could add only 30 runs between them before the latter mistimed a delivery from O’Keefe only to find Lyon at cover.

Ravichandran Ashwin, who has been in excellent batting form in recent times, lasted all of eight deliveries before being trapped leg before by O’Keefe. The umpire had initially adjudged Ashwin as not out, but a review by the visitors prompted a change in the decision.

The hosts were reeling at 99/6 at the tea break and the Australians needed only six overs after the restart to complete the win.

Pujara was dismmissed by O’Keefe in only the second delivery after tea as a delivery that skidded off after pitching hit his pad plumb in front of the wicket.

Ravindra Jadeja was the next to go while attempting a cut off Lyon. But the left-hander misread the turn only to inside edge the ball onto the stumps.

Lyon then cleaned up remaining Indian tailenders in the form of Ishant Sharma and Jayant Yadav to hand the visitors a memorable win.

Earlier, Steven Smith led from the front with a century as Australia were dismissed for 285 in their second innings at the stroke of lunch to move to a commanding position.

Steven Smith - 8th captain to score century in India
Steven Smith – 8th Australian captain to score a century in India

Dropped by Ajinkya Rahane off Ravichandran Ashwin’s bowling, the Australian skipper went on to make the most of the reprieve to post 109, his first century in India.

He hit 11 boundaries during his 202-ball stay in the middle before being trapped leg before by Ravindra Jadeja.

Smith has now scored centuries in five consecutive Tests against India. Before this match, he had also scored centuries in each of the four matches of the 2014-15 Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia. He became the eighth Australian captain to score a century in India.

Ashwin dismissed O’Keefe to put an end to Australia’s second innings at the stroke of lunch.

Ashwin was the most successful among the Indian bowlers with figures of 4/119. Jadeja and fast bowler Umesh Yadav clinched three and two wickets respectively, while rookie off-spinner Jayant Yadav had one scalp to his name.

India started the day on a positive note with overnight batsman Mitchell Marsh offering a thick outside edge to wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha off Jadeja’s bowling.

But Smith and Matthew Wade got together to carry the visitors’ second innings past the 200-run mark.

Umesh Yadav, who was impressive throughout the morning session, got his reward when Wade offered a thick edge to Saha.

The left-hander had got a reprieve earlier in the over when the ball took a slight touch of the toe end of the bat on its way into Saha’s gloves.

Wade’s departure saw Mitchell Starc join his captain in the middle and the two proceeded to put pressure on the hosts by scoring at a brisk rate.

The Indians, however, hit back by removing Smith, Starc, Nathan Lyon and O’Keefe in quick succession just ahead of the lunch break.

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