Sunday, March 19, 2017

Three Stories Highlight Fascinating Day of Test Cricket

The 3rd day at Ranchi was dominated by three individuals, whose own performances on the day showed the differing skills, temperaments and mental application that abide within the series. While two succeeded where one continues to live inside his own bubble, the tough grinding day of Test cricket has once again failed to give either side an advantage leading into Day Four.

  1. Cheteshwar Pujara has played the tough mongrel innings that he seems to save for Tests against Australia. He batted through the entire day rarely looking troubled, and ensure the deficit was slowly but surely knocked away. His one moment was an LBW appeal referred to the DRS, where depending on your point of view, it could be said that the ball may have hit the pad slightly before his bat which would have led to his dismissal. The third umpire disagreed and he survived. He saw off the threats of Cummins and Hazelwood, he padded away O'Keefe's line outside his leg stump, and he worked Lyon away through the leg side with ease. It was a terrific example of the mental side of cricket, something that should not be lost on his teammates such as Vijay and Rahane who lost their wickets to rash shots. He remains on 130 not out, and is the Indian who is most control of whether his side face a deficit in the first innings, or possibly gain a lead.
  2. Pat Cummins has returned to Test cricket, and picked up where he left off 6 years ago. He was managed well by skipper Steve Smith, given shorter spells and used as a strike bowler. You could see the difficulty of the situation, because Cummins was the one who looked like getting the breakthroughs and both he and his captain would have liked him to bowl more, but you could also see the tired walk back to the bowling mark through his fourth over of a spell, and you just knew he couldn't be pushed much further for fear of ANY injury occurring. This aside, he was truly brilliant in conditions that were in no way suitable for him. It was his sheer pace and effort that got him his wickets on the day - the brilliant ball to get Kohli and the effort balls to get Rahane and Ashwin. He now has 4/59 from 25 overs in the innings, and the only concern now is how he pulls up after that workload. It will be a familiar question for him over the next two weeks given his history. The supporting cast for Australia did their job on a thankless surface. Hazlewood was a metronome, while O'Keefe and Lyon both toiled with few troubles for the batsmen. Their time will come on Day Five if they are in a position to bowl India out in their second innings.
  3. For a man who has taken it on himself to be the man to drag India to this series win, Virat Kohli had yet another unspectacular day. After spending most of the first two days inside the change room, he decided to make his presence felt when Australia lost their second DRS review against Pujara. While applauding vociferously (which must have been a strain on that poor injured shoulder) he deliberately moved out onto the balcony so that the whole world - and specifically the Australian players - could see him. One could see that as being provocative. No, certainly the Indian media ignored that, they were more concerned when Glenn Maxwell dived for a ball in the field in the same way Kohli had done to 'injure' his shoulder, and then 'mocked' Kohli by smiling and grabbing his shoulder. That was where the problem lay, apparently. And when the cropped photo of Steve Smith with 'his' hand on his shoulder when Kohli was dismissed (which was actually Handscomb's hand on his shoulder) Indian's went vitriolic. Until it was proven false, at which point they remained indignant without being apologetic. When it mattered though, Kohli failed again, edging Cummins to Smith at slip for just 6, and the Aussies were ecstatic. Despite not being able pry out the whole order, getting the Indian captain cheaply again would have made the beer at stumps worthwhile.
India trail by 91 runs with two days to play, and all three outcomes are still possible in this Test. Significantly it will be the Australian top order that is again under the most pressure today. Whether they start with a lead or not, they still have to ensure they do not collapse as has been their wont in recent times. They must have a lead of around 200 by stumps on Day Four with wickets in hand if they are to be in a position to push for victory. Anything less than that opens the door for India to sneak under their guard and steal a win that would be, from an Australian point of view, undeserving.

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