India vs Australia: Kohli, India seamers shine as Test hangs in balance

A Sunday of sharp words, fire-spitting bouncers and intense cricket, has left the second India vs Australia Test on the razor’s edge.

Australia has the advantage but India could still wing back if it can restrict the remaining Australian batsmen.   -  getty images

An elderly man held a banner with the words: ‘India, it’s your game’. It was a cheeky inversion of Cricket Australia’s promotional slogan - ‘It’s your game’, intended at attracting local fans, still upset about the ball-tampering crisis that stained Australian cricket.

Inside the Optus Stadium, India attempted a similar role-reversal despite conceding a 43-run first-innings lead to Australia. A Sunday of fire-spitting bouncers and intense cricket, has left the second Test on the razor’s edge.

Breathing fire with the ball

Harris got struck on the helmet by Bumrah, the Indian fielders rushed towards the southpaw.   -  getty images

 

At the close on the third day, Australia scored 132 for four in its second innings and has an overall lead of 175. The host has the advantage but India could still wing back if it can restrict the remaining Australian batsmen. But a target beyond 200 could be cumbersome. 

Trailing Australia’s 326, India scored 283 in its first innings, with Virat Kohli’s 25th Test century (123, 257b, 13x4, 1x6) being the spine. When Australia commenced its second innings, openers Marcus Harris and Aaron Finch braved fiery spells from Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami.

Harris edged Ishant but the catch eluded Cheteshwar Pujara at first slip. And just after Finch slammed fours off Ishant and Bumrah, there was an anxious moment. Harris got struck on the helmet by Bumrah, the Indian fielders rushed towards the southpaw.

Aaron Finch, who suffered an injury on his right index finger after being struck by a Mohammed Shami delivery here during the second Test, might have escaped with a minor niggle.

That’s the impression, Australia’s Nathan Lyon gave while speaking to the press here on Sunday. “Pretty sure he has been cleared of any serious damage. I am still not sure whether he is going to bat, so if he bats he bats, if he doesn't we will just have to make do with whatever we can. But it is great news for Aaron that he has been cleared of any serious damage,” Lyon said.

Recently the fourth anniversary of Phillip Hughes’s death following a bouncer-induced head-injury had passed by and the anxiety was understandable. Thankfully, a doctor checked Harris and cleared him to bat.

The Indians, though, did not reduce their aggression. There was constant chatter and just before tea, Shami pinged Finch’s right index finger, forcing the batsman to retire hurt. On resumption, Usman Khawaja accompanied Harris. The latter fatally shouldered arms to Bumrah and Shaun Marsh perished to Shami.

Khawaja (41 batting), first joined hands with Peter Handscomb, and later along with Travis Head, to keep nudging the Australian scorecard.

Handscomb succumbed to Ishant, who then caught Head’s ambitious shot at third-man while Shami exulted. Khawaja and Tim Paine are at the crease and Monday should throw up a thriller. 

Kohli lends spine, again

Trailing Australia’s 326, India scored 283 in its first innings, with Virat Kohli’s 25th Test century (123, 257b, 13x4, 1x6) being the spine.   -  getty images

 

In the morning, resuming at 172 for three, India suffered an instant blow. Nathan Lyon lured an edge from Ajinkya Rahane and the fourth-wicket partnership that the Mumbaikar forged with Kohli ended with a contribution of 91.

Kohli warmly greeted Hanuma Vihari and soon the two added 50 runs for the fifth-wicket. Vihari slashed Mitchell Starc and straight drove Pat Cummins.

Kohli, meanwhile, motored on with a domineering bat, sharp eyes, fast legs and stolen singles. At one point, he nonchalantly drove Lyon for four and once the new ball was taken, the runs came at a faster clip.

The Indian skipper straight-drove Starc for four and reached his hundred with panache. Kohli with the gloves indicated that his bat will do all the talking. Perhaps it was a reaction to the chatter around this series, with former players speculating about how he would fare in Australia.

THE ‘CATCH’

Kohli's catch off Pat Cummins created quite a stir late in India's innings.   -  getty images

 

Just as India looked to move on, Vihari fell to Josh Hazlewood. But the hammer-blow was delivered when Kohli drove loosely against Cummins. The edge flew low and to Handscomb’s right at second slip. The fielder scooped the dipping ball and Kumar Dharmasena issued the ‘soft-signal’ out.

When the third umpire Nigel Llong’s view was sought, multiple replays did not offer any conclusive evidence of Handscomb picking the ball off the turf. Dharmasena’s verdict was upheld and an angry Kohli dumped his gloves near the boundary and Twitter was abuzz with conspiracy theories.

After Kohli’s exit, on either side of lunch, India’s tail capitulated despite Rishabh Pant’s rebellious streak while off-spinner Lyon bagged a well-deserved five-for. India lost its last six wickets for 60 and these minor details can influence a match fought on narrow margins.