After two melodramatic days of mesmerising Test cricket, Australia completed a famous victory with few dramas but much style on the third morning. Steve Smith’s men won by nine wickets with 45 minutes to go for Lunch, leaving the Indian team in some disarray and themselves plenty of time to celebrate before the two teams meet again in Ahmedabad for the final Test on March 9.
Usman Khawaja’s dismissal from just the second ball of the day by Ravichandran Ashwin and the two collapses — eight for 28 in New Delhi and six for 11 in Indore — could have brought with them all sorts of demons. But Travis Head (49, 53b) and Marnus Labuschagne (28, 58b) displayed great mental resolve and sealed a maiden spot in the World Test Championship (WTC) final, scheduled to be played at The Oval from June 7 to 11.
Now, if Sri Lanka beats New Zealand 2-0, India needs to win the fourth Test to qualify. If Sri Lanka doesn’t beat New Zealand 2-0, India will advance to the final regardless of the result in Ahmedabad. The first New Zealand vs Sri Lanka Test and the fourth Border-Gavaskar Test start on the same day.
Over in Indore, both batters were resolute in defence and refrained from playing rash shots early on. But Head, having absorbed the early pressure in the first 10 overs, opened his shoulders against Ashwin when he hit him for a four and a six in the space of six balls. That encouraged Labuschagne, who also adopted a hit-out approach when he slog-swept Ravindra Jadeja for four and then drove Ashwin to the cover fence.
Ashwin had requested a ball change after the 11th over due to some issue with the seam. However, he and captain Rohit Sharma were unhappy with the replacement but umpires Joel Wilson and Nitin Menon decided against another change. Curiously, Ashwin, Jadeja and Umesh Yadav lost their radar since.
The lowest defended total in Test history is 85. So, India needed to create history to go 3-0 up in the series. But it wasn’t to be in the end. Meanwhile, this is only the third time India has been beaten at home in 45 Tests going back a decade.
The pitch ended up being the crucial difference, just not in the way the Indians would have imagined. The host side probably thought Australia would be overwhelmed by another lifting, raging turner, but it played into the tourist’s hands. Aussies prefer a surface with a decent bounce to one without any. And while the bounce on the Indore pitch was variable, their batters were happier playing from the crease or on the front foot. They learned from their previous mistakes, and almost exclusively resorted to vertical bat shots with soft hands.
Throughout the third Test, Australia’s self-belief remained intact, as if it was impervious to the previous capitulations. Much of this came from Smith, the stand-in captain. There is a purpose and intensity about everything he does which slowly but surely tilted the balance.
At the start of this Test, Rohit had hinted that India could request a green pitch for the fourth Test if it won in Indore. But with the series scoreline back to 2-1, it will be interesting to see the nature of the surface at the Narendra Modi Stadium, a venue that holds the record for the shortest completed Test (India vs England, 2021) since 1935. But Australia will cross that bridge when it comes to it, for now, the visiting side will cherish its second Test win in India in its last 17 appearances here.
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