Australia emphatically levelled the series at Perth on Day 5, cleaning up India for 140 and sealing the win by 146 runs, their first in six Test matches. Chasing 287 for win, India had lost the cream of their batting line-up on day four and with a long tail and little batting to come, the result was a given. The Aussie seamers and Nathan Lyon on the final day hastened India's misery and ended up giving Australia a confidence-boosting win ahead of the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne.
Here are our player ratings from the Perth Test:
Few believed a spinner could make any kind of impact in this Test match at the new Optus Stadium in Perth after multiple images of the green pitch a day before the match. India were probably themselves fooled and went in with an all-pace attack but Lyon ripped through the Indian batting with a five-wicket haul in the first innings, establishing his ‘GOAT’ status in the country. Lyon ran through India’s long tail after getting rid of a rejuvenated Ajinkya Rahane early on day three and in the second innings, sunk India’s hopes by dismissing Virat Kohli on day four.
Kohli’s stupendous form in the year and in Australia continued as he shrugged off his wasted starts at Adelaide to bring up a fabulous ton in the first innings on a difficult pitch. The Aussies were all over him right through the innings with Pat Cummins, believed to be his toughest opponent, strangling him for room many times. Kohli, though, came out on top in most battles and completed a well-fought century to take India within touching distance of Australia’s first innings total. He missed out in the second innings as India attempted to chase down 287, edging to the cordon off Lyon.
With criticism rife on his defensive batting in the series, Khawaja walked out in the second innings as Australia looked to extend their dominance. Even with Aaron Finch going down, owing to a finger injury, and India’s quicker bowlers making life hell for the batsmen, Khawaja stood rock solid. He weathered 213 balls, wearing down the irresistible Indian bowlers, and piled up the lead, batting India out of the Test match. His 72 and 72-run partnership with Tim Paine put curtains on India’s hopes at Perth and by the time Mohammad Shami discovered his mojo, Khawaja had taken Australia to a match-winning target.
India’s partnership breaker, Bumrah was time and again Kohli’s right hand in the bowling attack, stepping up each time his skipper wanted him to. He drew first blood for India after a listless start to the Test match when he trapped Finch in front and then removed a resistant Tim Paine later in the innings. Bumrah broke through with the first wicket again in the second innings and wiped off the tail to give India some relief before the run-chase.
Shami roared to form in the second innings for India, destroying the Aussies in a searing spell that saw him pick up the wickets of Paine and Finch off consecutive balls. He took the big scalp of Khawaja and later Lyon to add on to his two wickets early on and finished with six in the innings. Shami has a tendency of finding his rhythm late in the game and the vast difference between his first innings average (40.62) and second innings average (18.57) this year is proof of it. However, India will want him to showcase similar consistency early on in a Test match.
Harris had displayed good temperament at Adelaide but failed to score big. At Perth, he rectified it by putting up a century stand with Finch and scoring a career-best 70 before an unfortunate dismissal saw him miss out on a deserved ton. Harris was one of the most solid Australian batsmen in the Test and his resolve and tenacity augurs well for the hosts for the remainder of the series.
Ishant failed to be as potent as at Adelaide despite a juicy surface and sprayed the ball around a touch early on in the first innings. He didn't cause much trouble to left-handers early on but soon found his rhythm and picked up four to finish the innings on a good note. In the second innings, Ishant was tight and consistent but grabbed just one wicket as the Aussies ran away with the game.
Hazlewood opened up the Indians in both innings - cleaning up KL Rahul in the first and dismissing Cheteshwar Pujara early in the second. The most threatening Aussie bowler on display, Hazlewood’s immaculate lines made life difficult for the Indian batsmen on a spicy wicket. His big second innings wickets – Pujara and Rahane – on day four virtually derailed India’s hopes of chasing down the target. Australia will want the tall seamer to pick more wickets when he is in such good rhythm, however, the seamer has done little wrong so far in the series.
Australia’s highest run-scorer in the series thus far, Travis once again stepped up in the first innings and eased the hosts past the 300-run mark with an 84-run stand alongside Shaun Marsh. Head occupied the crease for long, withstood some fine Indian bowling, scoring 58 and ensured the start that Finch and Harris had given was utilized. He has been walking in at 6 for Australia but given his form, Head could well get a promotion at MCG.
The Aussie skipper’s contribution in the game would be grossly underestimated if it isn’t viewed in the right context. With two 30-plus scores, where he occupied the crease for more than 200 balls across both innings, Paine ensured that the lower-order, which has been a menace to India, kept haunting them. The keeper-batsman was terrific as skipper, marshaling his troops with authority, rotating his bowlers seamlessly and opting for good field placements. His move to call up Lyon against Rahane early on day three perhaps tilted the balance of the Test in Australia’s favour.
Heavily criticized for his ordinary display at Adelaide by Shane Warne, Starc responded by striking with the new ball within the first three overs in both innings – cleaning up Murali Vijay in the first and Rahul in the second. Starc was sharp in his short bursts and aside from pegging India back early on, also removed their pillar, Cheteshwar Pujara, in the first innings. On Day 5, he hastened India’s collapse with a searing spell against the tail. He is just a handful of wickets away from becoming Australia’s fastest seamer to 200 Test wickets.
While Rahane recieved criticism from all quarters for his poor form before the series, in the couple of matches in Australia so far, he has hit top gear even if only for a few hours. A 70 in the second innings at Adelaide was followed by a rampant half-century at Perth, where he took the momentum away from the Aussies with some excellent horizontal bat shots. A 91-run partnership with Kohli was disrupted when Lyon brought out Rahane’s perennial weakness against off-spinners.
Cummins’ battle with Kohli was the toast of the Test match as he steamed in against the Indian skipper and bowled 43 dot balls out of the 67 balls he bowled to Kohli across both innings. The seamer was immensely accurate, denying Kohli any room and ensured that the Indian was never on top of him. He finally got rid of Kohli, albeit after he scored a splendid hundred, which remained his sole wicket in the Test until day five when he helped Starc in knocking off India’s tail.
Finch appeared shaky at the start but then bulldozed the Indian bowlers in the first session to put a century stand with Harris. Finch’s half-century came at a strike rate close to 50 but he fell soon after that to a familiar fallacy against the ball angling in. In the second innings, Finch was forced to retire hurt with a finger blow after making 25 but returned later next day in the midst of a fiery Shami spell, only to be dismissed first ball.
Marsh has neither been overly dominating nor entirely meek in this series so far and his Perth scores reflect his lack of consistency. A short ball that reared up from Shami got rid of him in the second innings early on. That, though, came on the back of a well-made 45 before his persistent cutting against the off-spinner led to his downfall. Vihari generated extra bounce to flummox Marsh and the experienced player would definitely rue his eventual soft dismissal.
In the absence of a regular spinner, Vihari once again stepped up – like in England – and did a fabulous job for Kohli, dismissing the well-set Harris and Marsh in the first innings. He was tight and containing in the second innings too and sort of made up for the absence of a holding spinner. Vihari’s batting is the skill for which he is in the side though and during his stay at the crease, the middle-order batsman looked assured and played some fabulous shots down the ground. A peach of a delivery from Hazlewood got rid of him in the first innings. He looked good once again in the second innings before an inside edge on day five off Starc hit his thigh pad and went to short mid-wicket. Vihari has shown enough to be persisted with at Melbourne.
After a match-winning performance in Adelaide, Pujara fell to poor shots in both the innings in Perth. He seemed settled at the wicket, ready to make a big one in the company of Kohli with a composed 103-ball 24 in the first innings, but was strangled down the leg-side by Starc. In the second innings, with Rahul being dismissed in the first over, the No 3 batsman edged Hazlewood from a fourth stump line to the keeper to leave India’s middle-order exposed.
Pant made two scores of 30 or more like his counterpart behind the stumps, Paine, but was much less assured than the Aussie and did little to inspire enough confidence about his ability to hold himself together in difficult situations. Pant had a few listless moments behind the stumps but is improving as a keeper. It is his tendency to play needless heaves with the bat that the Indians would be worried of.
With Mayank Agarwal called up to the squad in place of Prithvi Shaw, Vijay might well have played his last Test match for India. The Tamil Nadu opener was a massive liability at the top of the order in the first two Tests and was cleaned up in both innings at Perth, taking his average in 2018 to a horrendous 18.8, the worst for any top 3 batsman with at least 10 innings in 2018 in Tests.
Called in as the fourth seamer ahead of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav failed to conjure up the kind of performance he showed on his debut tour of Australia. He was the most expensive bowler for India in the Test and had little to show for except the big wicket of Khawaja in the first innings. The skiddy pace and back of a length channel meant the ball sat up on the Perth wicket, which the Aussies completely dominated. He went at a rate of 4.4 in the second innings and should make way for Hardik Pandya, who has been flown in from India, at Melbourne for the next Test.
Handscomb’s poor technique continues to hamper his career progress and at Perth, India found the right length to keep Handscomb quiet. Kohli pulled off a stunning catch in slips to dismiss him in the first innings and in the second, Ishant, the same bowler who dismissed him in the first, trapped him in front by angling the ball into him. Handscomb’s technique of going on the back-foot for full balls is worrying and the second innings dismissal should prompt the selectors bring in Mitchell Marsh at Melbourne.
The flamboyant Indian opener had impressed in bits and pieces on the three overseas tours this year but had flopped more often than not and after two early dismissals at Perth, Rahul’s place is under threat. He has been vulnerable to the ball moving in and 12 of his last 14 dismissals in Tests have been either bowled or lbw. The opener has a massive flaw to correct but might not be dropped yet. Mayank is the only other opener called up for third Test and Vijay is almost certain to be dropped which could mean a longer rope for Rahul.
Rating chart: 10-9: Excellent, 8-7: Good, 6-5: Average, 4-3: Poor, 2-1: Very poor
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Pujara, whose dogged half-centuries (50, 77) in the third Test helped India draw the match, is placed eighth, just behind his stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane, who lost one place.
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