How did the Australians manage to turn things around with the bat in the third Test?
This was the match in a subcontinental dust bowl where the ball turned even more than at Nagpur and Delhi.
Add to this the uneven bounce and puffs of dust from the first over and India, winning the toss, was the favourite for a 3-0 lead.
Rohit Sharma and his men were in for a rude shock.
The Australians, in the lengthy break between the second and third Tests, had burnt the midnight oil to come up with the right strategy against Indian spin.
Importantly, the Australians decided to do away with the premeditated sweep shots that had gifted wickets to the Indian spinners.
It was decided Australia will play its normal game against spin and each delivery on merit.
Many got it wrong when they said R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja bowled poorly in Indore. That’s not true. It’s just that the Australia batters, using their feet, played the Indian duo much better than in the earlier Tests.
During the crucial 96-run second-wicket partnership between Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne in the Australian first innings, we saw a marked change in the Aussie approach.
The two batters, not obsessed with sweep, drove handsomely in front of the wicket and used their feet to both Ashwin and Jadeja.
Spinners do not like being milked for runs in the `V`. It prevents them from having a stranglehold on the batters.
Cricket is a fascinating sport of tactics and strategy. It is also a technical game of footwork, body balance, distribution of weight and head position.
Khawaja and Labuschagne were relaxed at the crease, focussed and did not allow the spin pair to dominate them mentally. They were not psyched out.
Labuschagne, in particular, played a lot off his back-foot, shortening his back-lift to keep away the deliveries keeping low, and using the depth of the crease to give himself more time and space. He could see the extent of turn and adjust accordingly.
In a conversation with the late Ajit Wadekar, a fine player of spin on treacherous wickets with his left-handed batting, the former India captain said, “On a turning track, the best way to play is off the back-foot.”
Wadekar added, “You watch the ball for a longer time, see what it does, and can get runs behind square on both sides apart from forceful shots off the back foot in front of the wicket. You also have greater time to defend.”
Once the batters start playing them off the back-foot and with soft hands, frustration creeps into the spinners. Because when you push forward it opens up dismissals in bat-pad positions.
The Australians used their feet when they went forward rather than lean forward from a static position and make themselves vulnerable.
The confidence back, the fleet-footed Travis Head and Labuschagne put the pressure right back on the Indian spinners in the second innings. How quickly things can change!
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