A scrappy and lethargic display by India in the field has allowed Australia to take the honours on day one of the third Test in Ranchi.
Winning the all-important toss and electing to bat first, Australia reached 299/4 at stumps with captain Steve Smith unbeaten on 117 and Glenn Maxwell not out on 82 in his first game of the series. Smith and Maxwell’s 159 partnership made India graft on a pitch that offered little assistance to the fast or spin bowlers as the visitors controlled the day’s play and didn’t lose a wicket in the last session.
India would have been the happier team at the lunch break, despite letting Australia off to a solid start with a 50-run opening stand within the first 10 overs. After David Warner hit a full toss straight back at Ravindra Jadeja, India managed to recover and claim the wickets of Matt Renshaw and Shaun Marsh before the first interval. Virat Kohli would have been pleased with the fightback that left his side with the upper hand when Australia began the second session at 109/3.
However after lunch it was Australia’s, and particularly Smith and Maxwell’s day with their partnership setting the visitors up for a big first innings total. Once Umesh Yadav, the most threatening of India’s bowlers, removed Pete Handscomb with a reverse swinging yorker, Smith and Maxwell batted patiently for the rest of the middle session.
It was during that session, in the 40th over, that India’s captain Kohli injured his shoulder while diving for a ball in the outfield and left the field. Kohli did not return, and his absence may have had an effect on his teammates. Kohli’s energy and aggression seemed to be missing from the rest of his side as Ajinkya Rahane stepped in to lead for the rest of the day.
Barring a short period after tea where Rahane kept mid-off in the ring when Jadeja was bowling to Maxwell in an interesting game of cat and mouse, India looked lethargic and lacked ideas on a pitch that was by far the easiest to bat on so far this series.
The pitch at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association Stadium was the centre of a lot of speculation, hype, and sensationalism before the Test began with claims made the Ranchi ground staff had doctored a minefield to suit India, that the pitch looked like ‘rolled mud’ and was going to be a nightmare to bat on.
What transpired was anything but, the pitch proved to be a good one to bat on, with the ball doing very little and the bounce being true, albeit on the lower side. Initially the slowness of the pitch made stroke playing a little difficult but by the end of the day it was clear Australia’s batsman had adapted to the conditions a lot better than the Indian bowlers – as was the case on a rank turner in Pune.
On a surface offering them very little help India needed to be disciplined with the ball and sharp in the field to restrict Australia, and in the first session and a half they toiled away manfully. Kohli’s injury seemed to coincide with India’s dropping energy levels, and increased sloppiness with several fielding errors allowing easy runs for Australia.
India’s bowlers failed to maintain a consistent line and length to build the pressure and force a poor stroke from the batsman. Unlike in Bangalore, the Ranchi wicket was not going to play any tricks on day one and barring Yadav none of India’s bowlers looked threatening enough for long enough. Even the Vidarbha pacer erred too often in line, straying on to Smith’s pads repeatedly to be picked off on the leg side for easy runs.
Sustained periods of pressure, which were needed to take wickets on such a slow pitch, were few and far between for India which allowed Smith and Maxwell to build patiently before accelerating late in the day. During one period of play after tea where Jadeja was managing to tie Maxwell down India cost themselves a wicket with yet another DRS blunder. Bowling from over the wicket into the footmarks outside the right hander’s leg stump, Jadeja got one to bounce and strike Maxwell on the pad before ballooning to Rahane at first slip. Unbeknownst to the Indians the ball had also flicked Maxwell’s glove on its way to slip, but acting captain Rahane decided against reviewing after a brief consultation with the bowler and wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha.
India will rue the missed chance as Maxwell began to bat freely towards the day’s end to inflict more pain on an Indian side that had been made to toil hard in the Ranchi heat without their passionate skipper to lead the way.
The one positive India will take from the day is they know the wicket is flat, and against England they conceded first innings totals of over 400 but managed to surpass those scores when their turn came to bat. However there will be worries over Kohli’s shoulder, and the impressive stand between Smith and Maxwell poses a huge threat. India will need wickets early on day two to restrict the Australians otherwise this pair could bat them out of the match, and the series.