For the first time in two and a half Test matches, this series between India and Australia became soporific and dull as this flat Ranchi pitch nullified the bowlers almost completely. In Pune the pitch was rated as “poor”, in Bangalore the surface was “below average”. In Ranchi the Australia team and press contingent cried foul because the pitch looked a bit ugly.
It turned out that this Ranchi pitch was the best for batting in this series, and the entertainment on offer was worse for it. Pune and Bangalore are two of the best Tests in recent years, and the pitches played a part in that. As we head into the final two days of this Test, a high-scoring draw seems the most likely result. If any pitch in this series has been poor it has been this one which has been slow, low and led to ponderous cricket. There is every chance that the pitch will break up and provide a brilliant finish. Judging how a pitch will play even after the match has got underway is difficult. But that won’t stop people trying.
The only reason that this game isn’t already heading toward a dull conclusion is the bowling of Pat Cummins whose extra pace was enough to hurry the batsmen on this placid pitch. Cummins is one of the more exciting fast bowling talents in the world. If Australia can keep him fit he could be one of the best in the world. Two Tests in six years suggests that will be easier said than done. In this Test he has been wonderful to watch so lets hope his injury problems are behind him.
It was with the short ball that Cummins was the most effective, taking three wickets with the bouncer. If Australia are sensible they will be finding a way to keep Cummins safe until the next Test. Perhaps cryogenic freezing?
Murali Vijay looked set for a century in his 50th Test, looking in fine touch on his way to 82. Then, almost inexplicably, he charged down the pitch to a ball from Steve O’Keefe in the last over before lunch which he missed completely. It was a tame end to a decent innings.
With both openers gone it brought Virat Kohli to the crease with the score on 193 for two. Kohli had been absent from the field for the whole of the second day, and most of the first, after injuring his shoulder while diving for a ball in the field. There was real concern that he would take no further part in this match, especially when a man who wasn’t his doctor told journalists that he would be out for 15 days.
Despite the medical opinion of that fake doctor, Kohli was padded up and ready to go when play got underway on the third day, but a 102-run stand between Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara meant he did not walk out into the middle until after lunch. When he did, his struggles continued.
Even before Kohli stuffed his shoulder, he has been poor in this series. No matter how good you are, and Kohli is otherworldly good, form is not permanent. It was inevitable that Kohli would find scoring runs hard at some point, but it was still jarring when it happened.
On Saturday in Ranchi he made six before he drove at a ball from Cummins with hard hands and was caught at second slip. His average for this series is now 9.2. Going into this series his average across this long home Test season was 86.14. Providing he is fit for the final Test in Dharmsala it could be that Kohli finds his touch again, but the absence of an in-form Kohli is one of the main reasons that Australia have done so well in this series thus far.
Pujara made his 11th Test hundred, getting there from 214 balls. Only Kohli has more runs than Pujara in the 12 Tests India have played at home this season, and if the respective form of the two men continue in the last three innings of this series he could well go past him. No Indian batsman has faced more deliveries than Pujara in the last 12 months, and his stubborn application has played as large a part in blunting opposition bowling attacks as anything his flashier colleagues have done.
Pujara ended up with 130 from 328 balls as he dragged India toward Australia’s big first innings total. He will rarely get the plaudits that others get, but if India get through this long home season without losing a series they will have a lot to thank Pujara for.
This Australian team continue to confound expectations. No one thought they would be in this position in this series, and they have performed brilliantly again to claim six wickets on this flat pitch. They have given themselves the chance of a victory which would mean they retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, but there is a long way to go before that happens.