Indians in the driver’s seat

20-03-2017
DH

After almost two days of battle of attrition between bat and ball, India nosed ahead of Australia in the third Test of the four-match series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Resuming at their overnight score of 360 for six, in response to Australia’s 451 all out, India consolidated their position on the strength of a long but productive partnership between Cheteshwar Pujara (202, 525b, 21x4) and Wriddhiman Saha (117, 233b, 8x4, 1x6) who added 199 runs for the seventh wicket. While their stand, the biggest for the series for any wicket, powered India past Australia’s impressive total, Ravindra Jadeja’s pyrotechnics (54 off 55 balls, 5x4, 2x6) helped Virat Kohli declare the innings at 603 for nine in 210 overs, giving his bowlers a minimum of eight overs to make some inroads into Australia’s second innings.

It was once again Jadeja (2/6) who hurt Australia by dismissing opener David Warner with a beauty before cleaning up nightwatchman Nathan Lyon to leave them tottering at 23 for two when the stumps were drawn on the fourth day here at the JSCA Stadium on Sunday. The left-arm spinner landed one on the rough outside off and got it to turn sharply into Warner who saw his stumps rattled. In the next over, he knocked off Lyon’s off-stump who played inside the line of the ball after it drifted in on the middle and off before shaping away from his bat.

Australia, who still trail India by 129 runs, will be under immense pressure when they resume batting on Monday’s final day. From where things stood till until tea break on the day, a draw appeared the most likely outcome but then not for nothing do they say things can turn on their heads pretty quickly in this part of the world. All it requires is one inspiring spell and one need not look too far to keep the interest in this game going. After England and India had amassed 400-plus and 700-plus totals in their respective first innings in the Chennai Test late last year, the tourists suffered a dramatic collapse on the final day as Jadeja ran riot with the ball for a seven-for. And given India’s position at the moment, the hosts will be the favourites to emerge on the right side of the result.

The strong situation that India find themselves in should go as much to Pujara-Saha show as it should to Jadeja. While Jadeja’s quickfire innings and his wickets have provided the home team with a realistic chance of forcing a win on a pitch that is beginning to respond to the spinners, it was Pujara-Saha association that accomplished the task of overhauling of Australia’s total. The duo managed 75 runs in the first session and went even slower in the second, collecting just 68 runs. The lack of runs was as much to do with their cautious approach as it was to the tidy lines of Australia’s bowling that denied India freebies. While the conditions weren’t demanding for batsmen, they needed to stay patient to get those runs. Pujara is a past master in playing the waiting game and his solid presence thwarted Australia’s attempts to gain the upperhand.

Pujara faced 525 balls during his innings, which broke India’s record for longest innings held by Rahul Dravid (495 balls for his 270 against Pakistan in 2004). That he has stayed out of field for just 31 overs in this match also reflected his improved stamina and fitness levels. Saha was equally impressive having begun on 18. He handled the short-pitched stuff admirably well and negotiated the spinners without much trouble en route his third Test hundred.

Australia’s attempts to dry up runs, however, played into India’s hands as they pressed on the accelerator in the final session. With the Aussie bowlers running out of steam after a prolonged a day on the field on a predominantly cloudy day, India drove home the advantage.

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