India moved within touching distance of a series win on the third day of their final Test against Australia. Resuming 52 runs behind on first innings with four wickets in hand they succeeded in getting a lead before bowling out Australia for 137. This has been a topsy-turvy series, so it would be wrong to suggest India have this match won, but the job is almost done.
Much was made of the speed with which India scored their runs on the second day, but the pace with which you score in Test cricket is almost entirely irrelevant. Sure, scoring fast to set up a win once you are ahead is important, but in every other circumstance it is about how many runs you score, not how quickly. On Sunday, Cheteshwar Pujara made 57 runs from 151 balls. There were wails about “intent” and other such made up things, but Pujara’s innings allowed India to still be batting when play got underway on Monday morning.
India took the lead in this match halfway through the seventh session of this Test, meaning there was more than half the Test still to come. They ended up with a lead of 32 runs, a margin that could well be match-winning. Pujara ground out nearly double that while he was at the crease. We live in an impatient time where a webpage taking more than three seconds to load can cause intense frustration. Perhaps we have forgotten just how long you have in Test cricket. The best batting coaches tell batsmen there is more time than they think in Twenty20 cricket, in a Test time is a cavernous expanse that stretches out in front of you. Quick runs are great, lots and lots of runs are better.
The insistence that India batted too slowly also does a massive disservice to the Australian bowlers who were excellent throughout India’s innings. Pat Cummins continued to impress on his return to long-form cricket and Nathan Lyon finished with a five-wicket haul. Respecting good balls means you stay in longer. The more time you spend batting the more runs you can score.
India’s 118 overs of batting allowed their bowlers to come into the second innings rested and revved up. That was very telling as Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled with pace, aggression and, dare I say it, attacking intent.
For the second innings in succession Karun Nair dropped Dave Warner off Bhuvneshwar at third slip. In the first innings it was off the first ball of the match and he went on to make 56. On Monday it was when he was on five. Nair’s slip fielding is now a legitimate concern for India. He needs to get better or be moved.
This time Warner could not make his luck tell, he was gone in the next over when Umesh had him caught by the wicketkeeper. Umesh was getting the Australia batsmen hopping around, with Renshaw looking in real trouble the whole time he was at the crease. It was inevitable that one of those rising deliveries would dismiss him, it came as no surprise when a short ball was edged to the keeper.
It was the back of length ball that also accounted for Steve Smith who finishes the series with 499 runs. He attempted to pull a ball from Bhuvneshwar that was under-edged on to the stumps. Seam bowlers that are well rested can do wonderful things.
With the top-order gone it was time for the spinners to have their say. Rahane pulled off a great catch off Ravichandran Ashwin to get Peter Handscomb and on the stroke of tea Shaun Marsh gave a simple chance to Pujara off Ravindra Jadeja. Australia were 92 for five. Perhaps the issue was they weren’t being positive enough…
Glenn Maxwell batted with maturity and patience for the second time in this series, and was perhaps unfortunate to be given out to a marginal LBW decision. He didn’t play a shot, although he pretended that he did, and that played a part in his downfall. It was one of those decisions that were right but are rarely given. Maybe Umpire Erasmus was brave to give it, either way Maxwell was gone.
With Maxwell gone, Matthew Wade proceeded to bat 90 balls scoring just 25 runs as he played to the situation, realising that you don’t have to attack all the time to do what is right for your team. He looked to attack once the he was batting with the tail, but if more Australians had followed his approach the target for India would have been a lot higher than 106
The person most responsible for India getting a lead was Jadeja who made yet another vital half century. In the six matches before this one where he has made fifty or more India have won five and drawn one. There is very little sense to his approach to Test match batting. Jadeja could just as easily pad up to an over as smash consecutive balls for six. It doesn’t always work, in fact his average of 28.4 suggests success is the exception, but late order runs can be match winning and demoralising for the opposition. In the series where he became the number one ranked bowler in the world it could well be his batting that has the most telling impact on the series winning victory.
Baring something miraculous on Tuesday India will win this game before lunch on Tuesday, winning the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in the process. In some ways a drawn series would have been a fairer result for two teams that have given us so much entertainment over the last month. But one way or another someone wins this game on Tuesday morning.