It was an abrupt end to a contest that was nicely poised after two days. Ravindra Jadeja ripped through the Australian line-up in the morning, picking up a career-best 7 for 42 to pave the way for India’s six-wicket victory over Australia at the Arun Jaitley Stadium.
Poor shot selection by Australia’s batters – most wickets fell to attempted sweeps and reverse-sweeps – and the probing lines and lengths of Jadeja on a dry pitch meant Australia capitulated like ninepins. India did stumble during its chase of 115 but Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and K. S. Bharat did enough to get India home comfortably before tea.
Jadeja exploited the variable bounce to rattle the batters who were also undone by the uncertainty with regard to the degree of turn. Most deliveries straightened slightly after pitching, some turned sharply, and others went on straight with the angle. The ball was relatively new, and it skidded on quickly off the pitch, adding to the difficulties.
R. Ashwin (3 for 59) started the rot by denting the top order. First, Travis Head, who had scored an attacking 39 in the previous evening, edged behind in the first over of the day to a delivery that turned sharply from a good length. Six overs later, Steve Smith attempted a sweep, didn’t reach the pitch of the ball and was dismissed lbw by a delivery that pitched outside the off-stump and turned in sharply. Four overs later, two more wickets had fallen: Marnus Labuschagne went back to play a short delivery from Jadeja, but it kept too low and snuck through to hit timber, while Matt Renshaw, who was clearly struggling to handle spin-bowling during his brief stay at the crease, attempted a sweep off an arm ball from Ashwin and fell lbw. Australia was five down for 95 in the 23 rd over of the innings and struggling.
In the next over, Peter Handscomb perished trying to drive a half-volley from Jadeja that spun, while Pat Cummins was undone by the low bounce – he went for a heave to the leg side off the first ball he faced but lost his middle stump. There was no looking back after that as Jadeja wrapped up the tail quickly – Alex Carey, Nathan Lyon and Matthew Kuhnemann were all bowled. Sitting pretty at 83 for 2 at one stage, Australia was staring at a defeat now, having lost eight wickets for 30 runs.
All guns blazing
Rohit Sharma then came out all guns blazing to set the pace of the run chase. The idea was to force the pace a little bit and not be bogged down at one end without moving the scoreboard along. As he told journalists at the end of the match: “On this pitch, it is important to score runs. Yes, do consume 100 or 200 deliveries if you want, but also score the runs. For that, you need to play your shots. These are things that our team keeps discussing from time to time.”
And Rohit did play his shots in his rapid innings of 31. He went down the track to Lyon in the second over after lunch, and smashed the ball over midwicket for a six. In the same over, he played the paddle-sweep for a four to fine leg. Rohit continued his onslaught in the next over – bowled by Kuhnemann – going down the pitch once again, this time for a six over the bowler’s head. But just as he was warming up, his innings ended abruptly via a run out: Rohit and Pujara went for an ill-advised second run after the ball was hit to square leg, and the Indian captain eventually sacrificed his wicket.
Pujara did stick around for a bit, unlike in the first innings, but again came down the pitch to smother the deliveries repeatedly. It had landed him in trouble on Saturday, and he appeared vulnerable again trying to use this method to play spin-bowling. He did the polar opposite of the strategy that Rohit said would be handy to thrive on this pitch, eating up delivery after delivery without scoring runs. It was a nervy, laborious innings, even though there were three boundaries to show for his 111-minute stay at the crease. He held one end up even as Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, and Bharat did the heavy lifting. Bharat, towards the end, accelerated India’s progress by playing some nice drives for boundaries and hitting a slog-sweep off Kuhnemann.
Just as in the first innings, Kohli appeared more assured at the crease than most other top-order Indian batters. Unlike Rohit, he didn’t attack uninhibitedly, and unlike Pujara, he didn’t hold one end up without moving the scoreboard along. He defended a lot, but played his strokes when the opportunity arose. It seemed Kohli would take India past the finish line, but he stepped down the track for a defensive stroke off Kuhnemann and was stumped out for 20. It was left to the others to pick up the baton but fittingly, it was Pujara, in his 100 th Test, who hit the winning runs and ensured a rapid end to the Test match.
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