Pat Cummins, Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschagne put India on the back foot
by SportsDiction – 10, January, 2021
Stumps Australia 338 and 103 for 2 (Labuschagne 47*, Smith 29*) lead India 244 (Gill 50, Pujara 50, Cummins 4-29, Hazlewood 2-43) by 197 runs.
Australia ended the third day 197 ahead, with eight wickets in hand, and both Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith looking at their pristine best as they picked apart India’s insipid – and temporarily depleted – bowling attack in the final session. India’s day didn’t end too far from where it had begun in terms of the deficit, but a collapse of 6 for 49 at the end of their innings and the ease of Australia’s scoring in the final session pushed them decidedly behind in the match.
The relentlessness of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood was responsible for that, as they were bowled out for 244, 94 short of Australia’s first-innings score, while also losing the immediate services of Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja who were both hit on their hands by bouncers and missed the end of the day as they went away for scans.
Coming into the day – the sunniest of all so far – at 96 for 2, it was clear that India’s senior-most batsmen had to both be among the runs if they were to set up a fighting chance for their inexperienced bowling line-up. But both Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane were met with the exact diligence and consistency that they faced in the last hour of the second day; they had made nine in the last ten overs in that period, and on the morning of the third they got only 11 off seven overs in the opening half hour. Rahane countered the short-pitched bowling with compulsive hooks and attacking shots briefly, but uneven bounce had already shown up early in the day. Eventually, he chopped a late cut on as the ball stayed lower than he expected when he leapt to execute the shot.
That brought Hanuma Vihari to the crease and another extended period of tight bowling – into the body mostly, by both spinner and fast bowlers – that seemed to produce chances every couple of overs. Pujara looked to find an escape off Nathan Lyon’s bowling, but before he could manage to get the strategy going properly, he had been dropped by Mathew Wade at short leg. Vihari had his share of misses and inside-edges and reprieves close-in as well, as he got wrapped tighter and tighter into a shell. At 4 off 37, he looked to steal a single to Hazlewood’s right at mid-off, only for the bowler to adjust his lunge such that he could throw the ball at the stumps immediately. Executing to perfection, he hit the non-striker’s stumps directly to catch Vihari short.
Australia had India 142 for 4 at that point and were only a wicket away from exposing the lower order. Enter Pant who, once again, came out attacking and briefly swayed the momentum India’s way. Against predominantly short bowling, he occasionally fended, occasionally ducked, and often cut or pulled to pick up quick boundaries early in his innings. He was also struck on the elbow by Cummins during that phase, the blow that later kept him out as Wriddhiman Saha came in to keep wicket in Australia’s second innings.
Pant’s stand with Pujara settled down after the early bluster, and stretched past 50 with runs coming a lot easier than in any previous stand. But after negotiating the second new ball together for close to eight overs, both Pant and Pujara fell six balls apart. Hazlewood had Pant nicking to first slip from around the wicket, and Cummins – for the fourth time in five innings – got Pujara to edge behind with one that straightened in the channel. Just like that 195 for 4 turned to 195 for 6, and from there it was a rather dramatic, humbling collapse.
Only Jadeja’s forced counterattack in the last-wicket stand looked anything like competitiveness as R Ashwin, first, and then Jasprit Bumrah were run out to lift the innings’ tally of those caught short of their ground to three. Between them was Navdeep Saini’s attempt at standing up to Mitchell Starc, whom he had peppered with bouncers and a beamer on day two; in turn, he was softened by three bouncers and patted the fourth to short cover who was brought in that very ball. Starc also got Jadeja’s left thumb with a bouncer in the middle of all this, before Cummins wrapped the innings up and finished with 4 for 29 in 21.4 overs.
India managed to dismiss both openers fairly early, starting with Mohammed Siraj finding Will Pucovski’s outside edge just as the debutant had begun to look confident. David Warner then missed a slog-sweep against Ashwin to be lbw, and it looked like India had a way back in. While the first session had balls kicking up at batsmen, Bumrah and Ashwin both got a few to keep low in the final session. With the uneven bounce going both upwards and down, India might have enjoyed more control had Jadeja been available.
Instead, it was mostly rock-solid batting from Labuschagne and Smith that dominated the rest of the session. They had both picked up the pace of the pitch fairly early on, and appeared more than ready for India’s leg-trap strategy – loading up the leg side infield and slanting it into the stumps. The strategy that had worked so well all series till now as a restrictive tool, came apart for India. In fact, it proved to have the opposite effect here, as Labuschagne picked up four boundaries square on the leg side. Rahane attempted a brief rotation of his bowlers, in order to have as much of Bumrah on as possible. But little control came from the other end as no-balls, boundary balls and touches of genius driving from Smith kept pegging India back. By stumps, the third-wicket pair had added 68 without once looking like getting out.