Australia A 290 for 6 (Marsh 86*, Head 68, Neser 44*, Nadeem 2-64) v India A
Australia A edged ahead at the end of the first day of the second unofficial Test as captain Mitchell Marsh led the recovery after his team had squandered another good start to fall to 140 for 5. In the company of allrounders Ashton Agar and Michael Neser, Marsh lifted his team to 290 for 6 at stumps with a century in sight.
Marsh had elected to bat at what could be a crucial toss as India A lined up with three spinners - Kuldeep Yadav, K Gowtham and Shahbaz Nadeem - on a pitch that would begin to take turn early on the first day. Australia A made some team rotations of their own, starting Agar alongside legspinner Mitchell Swepson, but would probably be grateful at their reduced chances of batting last.
But it wasn't all ideal at the start of the day. Matt Renshaw, who returned from injury and is looking to bring permanence to his slot at the top of the order with the Test team, was bowled by an outswinger from Rajneesh Gurbani in the second over the day. Travis Head then joined Kurtis Patterson, and the two left-handers continued their run of good form.
Patterson was as pleasing to the eye as he had been during the first Test in Bengaluru, using his reach to convert a lot of length balls into driving deliveries. Spin was introduced early and from both ends, and when it was, Patterson looked just as assured as he started stepping down the pitch without wasting any time. His two best shots of the day came against Kuldeep and Gowtham, both of whom were turning the ball away from him. In each case, Patterson was quickly down the pitch to drill the ball past the bowler and along the floor.
On the occasional re-introduction of a seamer, Patterson continued to use the same strategy, preferring to punch down the ground or drive through extra cover rather than go square. But his penchant for the drive would eventually lead to his wicket, when Nadeem got one to dip and spin through the gate. It was the third innings in a row that Patterson had looked good without going past fifty.
Head was aggressive right from the start, going after Gurbani who struggled for rhythm and started dropping them short almost immediately after hitting Renshaw's stumps. By the time spin came around, Head was fluid, and unafraid to go over the top. Although, yet again, he got out softly, running down the track against Kuldeep to be stumped a long way down the pitch. It was a particularly poor choice of shot, coming a couple of overs after lunch.
Peter Handscomb, meanwhile, continued his struggles before falling to Nadeem. Handscomb tried it all - using his feet, getting deep in his crease, pushing forward - to no avail during a scratchy innings. He then went for the only option left against spin - the sweep - but missed to be bowled. On another day, he would have had a breather before getting so far into his innings, but a logistical delay had forced the players to stay on the field for an extra half hour in the first session.
Marnus Labuschagne then managed to find the only fielder in the deep on the leg side off a half-tracker and suddenly a repair job was needed.
Agar took charge of that, timing sweetly from the very first ball as he began driving through the line. He was the aggressor in the sixth-wicket stand with Marsh, keeping the scoreboard moving as his captain struggled to gauge the pace of the surface.
Marsh might have fallen during that scratchy phase too, but R Samarth dropped him at leg gully, having squatted there for nearly half an hour as India tried to set Marsh up with the incoming ball.
From that reprieve came freedom for Marsh, who switched up a gear and started using his reach and power to unsettle the spinners and force them into defensive strategies. Agar was bowled around his legs, but Neser replaced him to good effect, getting into the runs in almost identical fashion to Marsh. Both players threw their hands at full deliveries, rarely leaving their crease to try and make the pitch of the ball, and made it work as the pitch began to flatten through the day.
By the end of the day, Nadeem was bowling over the wicket and outside leg stump, Kuldeep became flat and quick, and the two fast bowlers fed Marsh on the hips for plenty of bludgeoned pulls after taking the new ball. The sixth-wicket pair put on a century stand and went to stumps having taken control of the entire last session.