India opener KL Rahul’s fourth half-century in the series, a 102-ball 67, allowed the hosts to finish the second day of the third Test on Friday at 120/1, in reply to Australia’s first innings 451. With the pitch still not misbehaving, it was imperative India got off the blocks quickly. (Day 2 blog)
Rahul’s knock helped in achieving just -- he dominated in a 91-run opening stand --- even though he couldn’t stay unbeaten till the end of the day. But with Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara at the crease on 42 and 10, India will back themselves to pick up from where they have finished. (Day 2 scorecard)
Australia captain Steve Smith (178*) fell short of what would have been a well-deserved double century, but by stitching two vital fifty-run stands for the sixth and eighth wickets, he ensured India were chasing a total that should keep them under considerable pressure.
Jadeja’s crucial strikes
It could have been more than 451 but for Ravindra Jadeja’s eighth career five-wicket haul. Two wickets in his 5/124 were possibly game-changing. Jadeja first got rid of Glenn Maxwell (104), who had just reached his century and was possibly looking to play more freely. Matthew Wade then stepped in looking to either sweep Jadeja or come down the track to the pitch of the ball as much as possible.
The ploy worked as he made a 50-ball 37, but Jadeja removed him with a delivery that spun less than anticipated. Smith found another willing partner in Steve O’Keefe, who dug in for 71 deliveries, allowing the Australia captain to take the score past 400.
Had he not run out of partners, Smith would have probably scored more, but his was still the fifth highest innings by a visiting captain in India. Apart from the 50-run opening stand between David Warner and Matt Renshaw, Smith featured in all the other major partnerships --- 51 runs with Peter Handscomb, 191 with Maxwell, 64 with Wade and 51 with O’Keefe.
Kohli stays away
India were hurt most by the last two stands. With Virat Kohli staying in the dressing room to recover from a shoulder strain, India looked rudderless at times with bowling which lacked penetration and adequate support from the field. Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma were more erratic than Day 1, while R Ashwin toiled away without reward.
A dominant batting was required and Rahul looked most suited to take up that responsibility. Pat Cummins was coming in hard and quick but Rahul caressed him for three boundaries to get off to a good start. That allowed Murali Vijay to take his time and get used to the pitch in his comeback Test, having sat out in Bangalore due to a shoulder injury. Vijay was more content blocking and leaving, but India’s scoring rate didn’t drop thanks to Rahul.
He was most severe on left-arm spinner O’Keefe, scoring 25 off the 30 deliveries faced against him, after the left-arm spinner had extracted an edge that went past slip in the 11th over. Rahul raised his fifty, the fourth in the last five innings, by sweeping Nathan Lyon and looked primed for the century that has evaded him since Pune. But a slower bouncer from Cummins jagged back to kiss his glove, which meant Rahul has to wait longer.