Rahane, Thakur show fight but Australia in driver's seat

By, London
Jun 10, 2023 12:06 AM IST

Rahane's 89 and Thakur's 51 helped India reach 296, but Australia still comfortably placed with a lead of 296 runs.

When KS Bharat was dismissed off the second ball of the morning session on Day 3 of the World Test Championship final, an unnatural gloom descended upon The Oval cricket ground in London. Unnatural because when India are playing and Indians are in attendance, the noise levels usually go through the roof. But, at that point, with India 152/6, it just felt wrong to cheer.

Shardul Thakur (L) with Ajinkya Rahane(AFP)
Shardul Thakur (L) with Ajinkya Rahane(AFP)

By lunch, though, the gloom had lifted. India had made their way to 260/6, making 109/1 in 22 overs in the session, with Ajinkya Rahane on 89 and Shardul Thakur on 36. There were some lovely shots played during the 108-run stand, but luck played its part too. Three nicks were put down. Pat Cummins also took another wicket off a no-ball and kicked the last ball of the session back to the keeper in sheer frustration.

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It didn’t last long though. Just after the break, Cameron Green (who had dropped a sitter earlier in the day) pulled off a ripper to end Rahane’s resistance. He got a thick edge to a Cummins delivery and the ball flew towards gully where the tall all-rounder dived to his right and took a brilliant one-handed catch.

Thakur, who had taken two painful blows on his right forearm in the first session, got to his fifty and helped India avoid the follow-on, but the task ahead was a big one. India were eventually bowled out for 296, handing Australia a lead of 173. By close of play, the lead had risen to 296 runs. Marnus Labuschagne (41*) and Green (7) were at the crease at stumps.

A little bit of rust

It could have been much worse for India if Australia had simply taken their chances. Catches were dropped and no-balls were bowled. Some of the experts put it down to rust.

But Cummins, who bowled six no-balls in the first innings, is fast starting to make a habit of this. Since January 1, 2022, when one looks at the Aussie bowling line-up playing in this game, Green has bowled 26 no-balls and Cummins 22. No one else has bowled more than four.

So, he was struggling for rhythm but it wasn’t just about that. India weren't complaining though. Had the Australian skipper not bowled those no-balls, the match would have been as good as over. It probably still is. But they gave India a chance; just as the Rahane-Thakur partnership did as well.

Thakur, once again, showed that he likes playing away from home and especially at The Oval. He now has three fifties in as many innings at the venue, and determination to hang in there was clear to everyone watching.

It was a nice fightback but the issue was the top order collapse. There was no real coming back from that. In essence, India’s focus now shifted to trying to orchestrate an Aussie collapse.

Not India's day/match

Some hopeful folks thought about how dismissing Australia for 120 would allow India to conjure up something miraculous in the fourth innings. But Labuschagne and Steve Smith ensured that their team did enough to stay ahead of the game.

At this point, the pitch has some uneven bounce and Ravindra Jadeja was extracting some pretty sharp turn from the rough outside the left-hander’s off-stump.

The left-arm spinner troubled Smith (34) enough to prompt an uncalled-for charge down the wicket. Jadeja dropped the ball shorter and wide, and the resulting shot was skied and caught easily.

Head, who made 163 in the first innings, looked like a different batter this time around. The Indian team had solid plans for him. The pacers looked to target him with the short ball and against spin, the left-hander looked all at sea.

An attempted cover drive didn’t go where intended and Jadeja accepted a simple caught and bowled to end Head’s innings. Australia were well ahead at this point, but given the rate at which he can score, it was important India got him when they did.

Day 4 is going to be all about the declaration. How much time do Australia think they need to bowl India out? They will have to find the right balance so as to not give India batters the chance to dream. Either which way, on a pitch that is just starting to show its spicy nature, it won’t be easy.

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