India vs Australia, 3rd Test: Virat Kohli and Co placed to take control of evenly poised match
India can afford to bat for time, because the longer it bats, the more the pressure is on Australia not to buckle cheap in the third innings and let India get a sniff.
One hundred and eighty.
If you are the sort who likes turning over envelopes and calculating possibilities on the reverse side, that is the number you want to put down first: 180 overs remain in this Test; every calculation, by either side, will be predicated on that number.
If you are thinking from an Australian point of view, you need to figure out how many overs you reckon you need to bowl India out in the second innings. This is neither Pune nor Bangalore and even in the last innings, you want to budget at least 90, 100 overs for the job.
Sounds like that is rating India too high, or selling the Aussie bowling too short? Their main strike bowler is Pat Cummins — who, in just his second first class game after injuries kept him out for five years, has had to combine the durability of the workhorse and the penetration of a shock bowler. He produced consistent, searing pace and headhunting bouncers; two of those got him wickets that would have been beyond the capabilities of most other quicks — but it’s been hard toil for a player not yet fully grooved into the demands of Test cricket in these conditions.
Jadeja the other day talked about “good bowling fitness”, which he defined as not mere physical fitness but being in the mental and physical space where you can bowl to your own plans for over after over, hour after hour, without flagging. It is that fitness Cummins will be short of — for understandable reasons, but still.
O’Keefe has bowled 43 mostly defensive overs already, buying his one wicket for 117 runs. Nathan Lyon, since taking out Ishant Sharma as the last of his eight wickets in the Bangalore first innings, has bowled 62 overs, just six of them runless, given away 179 runs, and is yet to get a wicket across two innings. And Josh Hazlewood, except during that brief period when Karun Nair inadvertently blew on the embers of his banked fires and got consumed in the mini conflagration that resulted, has played the stock role — great economy rate, great display of sustained control, but that is as good as it got.
So, 90 overs, at the least. That is, the entire 5th day to try and bundle India out. For how much? Even on the last day, this is not exactly a 200-is-too-much track. So, 250?
How do you get to that point? If India get all out without adding a single run to the current score, fine — 90 ahead, make 160 or even 200 across most of day four, and Australia controls it from there. But each over India plays, and each run it scores on the fourth morning makes the Aussie calculations go increasingly pear-shaped.
India can afford to bat for time, because the longer it bats, the more the pressure is on Australia not to buckle cheap in the third innings and let India get a sniff. Australia needs to attack, though; it needs a quick finish to the Indian innings, and on the evidence of day three, none of its bowlers bar Cummins looks up for it.
This game has been about what some individuals did. Jadeja in the first innings bowled with the irrepressibility of India rubber. Smith batted like the rock of ages — immutable, imperturbable, impervious. And Maxwell forged ambition in the fire of hunger and played the sort of knock he can feed off for the rest of his career.
But equally, this game has been about what individuals did not do. Warner, Renshaw, Marsh, Handscomb all threw away a toss that was, on this track, easily encashable for the additional 150 that would have put Australia in a winning position. Murali Vijay, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane each in turn gave away opportunities to cash in on Australia’s first innings aberration, Vijay and Rahane after getting the game well in hand and Kohli without getting his head into the game at all.
The last two days, on a track that will not give either quicks or spinners any undue help, will remain a test of nerve and intent. The scoreboard puts India 91 behind with just one proper batsman standing; the back of the envelope scribbles suggest that the game is balanced dead even and that India, more than Australia, is placed to take control.
Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could play cricket on the back of envelopes, though?
PS: David Saker, Australia’s bowling coach, said something last evening and makes you wonder if the Australians too think their chances here have diminished. While discussing Cummins, and applauding the comeback, Saker said "I can't see him bowling too many overs tomorrow and maybe if we do have a bowl on the final day, I think it will be more a spinning wicket."
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