India vs Australia, 3rd Test: Steve Smith and Co should aim to restrict hosts under 300 before Tea on Day 3
For Steve Smith's men, breaking the Vijay-Pujara stand would be the key as both batsmen are capable enough of spoiling Australia's healthy scorecard. They must take quick wickets to avoid pressure on Day 3
For the fourth time in three Tests, Australia had managed to boss an entire day in India on Day 1. Amid the talk of 'poor' or 'below average' pitches, visitors got the better of Indian bowlers in Ranchi. To begin with, skipper Virat Kohli was off the field due to a shoulder injury and Ajinkya Rahane continued to lead the side on the second day. Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell ruffled a few feathers at the beginning of the first session of Day 2, which gave a mild headache to hosts' bowlers. But, Maxwell's fairytale innings was cut short at 104 and it looked like the visitors would then crumble before Tea. Matthew Wade managed to shoulder Smith, who was single-handedly taking on the bowlers almost effortlessly. After Wade's dismissal (37), Pat Cummins entered the fray only to walk back after Jadeja clean bowled him for a duck. Although, Steve O'Keefe contributed 25 runs before the team actually crumbled for 451, with Smith just 22 runs shy of a groundbreaking double ton.
No Kohli, no party? Think again. The Rahane-led side scalped six wickets for 150 runs and undoubtedly the credit goes to Rthe captain for his team management and bowling changes. Jadeja was probably the pick of the bowlers yet again, racking up five wickets for hosts. One could only admire how Smith stood tall on a day where nothing went great for the visitors. To sum up the Australian innings, they had arguably reached the objective. Maxwell's emotional knock and Smith's leadership was too good for the hosts to handle on Day 1 but mentally, the visitors would be happy with their highest overall total (so far in the series).
India, on the other hand, fought back with a solid opening partnership to ease off the pressure and put up 120/1 at stumps. A performance every Indian yearned for. KL Rahul and Murali Vijay started the proceedings for the hosts as the onus was now on the openers. After smacking a gritty 67, Rahul was sent back by newcomer Cummins, whose first spell made the headlines elsewhere. Vijay, alongside Cheteshwar Pujara managed to fight their way to the close, trailing by 331 on a pitch expected to get harder for batting from here on in.
For the visitors, the new ball did offer some pace for Cummins. Josh Hazlewood was still trying to find his feet whereas O'Keefe and Lyon found turn slower than usual on a pitch which failed to offer much assistance. The wicket of Rahul and figures of 1 for 22 in 10 overs is an indication that Cummins would play a huge part in clearing the list on Day 3.
There are no doubts that the wickets won't come easy on Ranchi pitch, however, Jadeja has done it and so can Cummins and Lyon. All Australian bowlers should worry about is breaking the partnership between the Indian batsmen, Vijay and Pujara who look set to carry on the innings which is in a way a boon for Kohli as he will get more time to rest his shoulder and might come back to bat. Apart from that, the visitors need to shed blood and sweat to restrict the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, Kohli (possible) and Ravichandran Ashwin. As things stand, Australia remain in a good position, and if they pull the trigger early in the first 10 overs of the first session with Cummins, Hazlewood and the two mighty spinners, the game will be firmly in the hands of the baggy greens. So, when they step out, their main objective should be to contain the hosts under 300 and bank on the healthy lead to further add to Kohli's misery on Day 3.
India scored at a quick clip to reach 131 for 4 in 15.2 overs, with Rodrigues unbeaten on 49, when heavy rains put paid to the hopes of a complete game.
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