Rohit Sharma's Team India in deep trouble after top-order wobble on Day 2 in WTC final against Australia

By, London
Jun 09, 2023 08:10 PM IST

Gill and Pujara's dismissals sum up another tough day for India, who are 318 runs adrift of Australia's total of 469 at the end of Day 2.

Scene 1. Scott Boland is a bit like Jasprit Bumrah. A bit. Remember how Bumrah delivers the ball at an angle; how he seems to bend his back outwards before bringing the ball into the right-hander? The same is also true of Boland, albeit with a small difference.

Australia's Cameron Green celebrates after taking the wicket of India's Cheteshwar Pujara with Scott Boland(Reuters)
Australia's Cameron Green celebrates after taking the wicket of India's Cheteshwar Pujara with Scott Boland(Reuters)

The orthodox alignment that we see with many bowlers — they try to keep their body parts moving in straight lines towards the batsman — is missing. His arm also comes in from an angle and pushes everything in towards the right-hander. That is his natural delivery and if Shubman Gill would have known that, he would not have shouldered arms to that delivery from the right-arm pacer; he would not have been clean bowled after making 13.

Scene 2. Cheteshwar Pujara had prepared for this tour. He had spent time in county cricket and done the hard work. The Aussies knew that too and if he got stuck in, he would bat time. This time, it wasn’t Boland though. It was Cameron Green. The ball was fullish, outside the off-stump, and it seamed in to hit the top of off-stump. Pujara, like Gill, shouldered arms and watched the ball hit the stumps. He made 14.

Two not-so-well-left dismissals had India in the kind of trouble they would have loved to do without in the final of the World Test Championship at The Oval in London. The fall of Pujara’s wicket reduced Rohit Sharma’s team to 50/3 and given that Australia had scored 469 in their first innings, the signs were anything but good.

When Virat Kohli was dismissed a little later, by a snorter from Mitch Starc, it got worse. The experienced top-order was back in the dressing room at 71/4 and it could have even become 87/5 but Ajinkya Rahane was saved by a Pat Cummins no-ball. At the close of play, India were 151/5, 318 runs behind Australia.

The India innings was severely limited by the dismissals of Gill, their most in-form batter, and Pujara, their most acclimatised batter. And it seemed like a pity because they had fought hard to dismiss Australia on Day 2.

The Aussies still put up a big total, but the fightback gave India a chance in a game where, according to ICC rules, if the match is drawn, tied or abandoned, both teams will be declared joint-winners.

Bowling it right

Day 2 was better for India on the bowling front. In fact, Day 2 happened to be the Day 1 they needed. The runs were still scored at a fair clip by Australia but led by Siraj, the Indian bowlers kept attacking.

Siraj got Head (163) early and then Thakur got Smith (121) with a loosener. Alex Carey made it to 48 before attempting an ill-advised reverse sweep off Jadeja, who was also India’s most economical bowler in the innings (18-2-56-1).

The pitch seemed to be doing a bit more than it did on Day 1. There was more swing on offer and a bit of uneven bounce too. And for a change, India’s execution was better. Still, the field settings could have been better — at various points there seemed to be too many easy singles on offer and it can all add up.

There was also spin and bounce on offer but India perhaps didn’t use Jadeja as much as they could have. Carey was clearly uncomfortable but Head’s record against spin isn’t great either. But Siraj's haul of 4/108 will give him a boost ahead of the second innings.

In the end, Australia made it to 469. It wasn’t 500 but it was the kind of total that meant Cummins and Co could just go on the attack.

Former Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting, speaking on air, felt that despite the fightback, Australia were still in command.

“No, India are not back,” said Ponting. “There's a lot of dryness outside of the grass areas. This has a bit of uneven bounce. Still, a bit of seam movement. India can't win from here.”

Fall of wickets

The Indian reply veered in the wrong direction pretty early. Sharma was caught on the crease and trapped lbw by Cummins. Gill and Pujara were dismissed in identical fashion while Kohli got an unplayable delivery. They all got starts but couldn’t do much more than that.

Rahane got stuck in to show that he is truly back, but the best part of the batting effort came when the crowd started chanting ‘Oooooh Ravi Jadejaaaa’. The left-hander obliged and scored a fine 48 off 51 deliveries before Nathan Lyon got him.

It was the kind of delivery that R Ashwin would have been proud of. It was flighted outside the left-hander's off-stump and drifted in towards the batter. Jadeja prodded at it and got an edge through to Smith at first slip. A classic off-spinner’s dismissal and we’ll probably see more of that in the second innings.

Starc (9-0-52-1, ER 5.77) and Cummins (9-0-36-1, ER 4.00) were expensive but Boland (11-4-29-1) and Green (7-1-22-1) gave the Aussies some much-needed control over the proceedings. The regular wickets helped too.

At the end of the day, Rahane was still around on a battling 29 off 71 balls but even he will be wondering where the support is going to come from. Will KS Bharat rise to the challenge? Will Thakur pull one out of the bag? There aren’t many options but that is all they have. Miracles are usually in short supply, but India sure could use one on Day 3.

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