Australia fell like a pack of cards on the morning of day three of the second Test to hand India a 2-0 lead in the four-Test series. The end was an anti-climax for Australia after going neck and neck with India for two days and was brought about by a combination of factors: the batters’ overeager approach to playing spin, the pitch, and Ravindra Jadeja’s accuracy.
This turn of events wouldn’t have been foreseen by many after the start Australia got in the second innings in the evening on Saturday. Travis Head struck six boundaries in the brief phase before the close of play, and thanks to his efforts, Australia raced to 61 for 1 in just 12 overs.
India captain Rohit Sharma, speaking to journalists after India’s six-wicket win, said he thought his team was “panicking” a bit during the last hour. This morning he told his bowling unit to be patient and keep bowling probing lines and lengths without worrying about runs being given away. As it turned out, R. Ashwin (3 for 59) dented the top order before Jadeja (7 for 42) ran through the lower half of the batting order to turn the tables.
“I could see that we were panicking a little bit. We were trying to change fields way too many times. But in the morning, I just wanted to tell those three guys (Ashwin, Jadeja and Axar Patel) to just keep calm (sic). We don’t need to change fields as often as we did last evening. We keep it there, we keep it tight, let the batters make that mistake.
“All these guys – Axar, Jaddu and Ash – have played a lot of cricket in these conditions, and you got to have trust in them as well when things are not going your way because those batters in the opposition group are quality batters as well. There are bound to be partnerships. There are bound to be things that we are not expecting. It’s Test cricket, one of the top teams in the world [is playing] as well. And they’ve got good players. There will be times we will be put under pressure. It’s just about absorbing that pressure and keeping it there (sic). Let the pitch do the rest. That was the talk,” Rohit said.
It hasn’t been long since Jadeja returned to professional cricket after recovering from a knee injury. But he’s made an impact straightaway, picking seven wickets in the first Test and 10 wickets in the second. Praising the reliable left-arm spinner, Rohit said, “Comebacks are not easy but the confidence that guy has in his abilities is massive. And you can see it out on the field. There are times when he was put under pressure but there was no sense of panic from him. He just kept relying on what he is best at. Yesterday, he was put under pressure – he went for more than five runs an over last evening. But he knew exactly what the batters were trying to do and he was confident in his ability that he could get those guys out and put them under pressure.”
Rohit had praise, too, for Ashwin and Axar for their batting. The two all-rounders added 114 runs for the eighth wicket to restore parity after Australia reduced India to 139 for 7 in the first innings.
“I think it’s a big plus to have your batting go as deep as possible. It is something that we’ve been trying to get over the years – for so many years, you wanted your batting to go as deep as possible. Luckily, in these three guys, we have that. It gives you that advantage as well; when the bowlers are a little tired bowling for 60-70 overs, these guys come in and then play some shots,” he said.
Amidst all the euphoria, concern grew over the batting form of opener K. L. Rahul, who on Sunday yet again fell for a low score. Rohit acknowledged the scrutiny on Rahul but clarified that the team management was willing to give him a long rope given the talent he possesses.
“Of late, there has been a lot of talk about his batting. But for us as a team management, we always look at the potential of any individual, not just K. L. I was asked in the past about a lot of players and if the guy has potential, guys will get an extended run. It’s not just about K. L. but anyone. If you look at the couple of hundreds he got outside India, one of the best I‘ve seen from K. L. - at Lord’s. Playing in England is never easy – he put up a great performance there. Centurion was another one. India won both games. That’s the potential he has. Obviously, of late, there have been a lot of talks but it was clear from our side that we want him to go out and just play his game and do what he can do the best that we’ve seen him do over the years.”
‘These opportunities don’t come all the time’
Pat Cummins, the Australian captain, attributed the loss to two world-class spinners (Ashwin and Jadeja) being at the top of their game and the batters’ inability to strike the right balance between passiveness and enterprise. Risk-taking went up a notch in the first innings, to Australia’s advantage, but the batters went overboard with it in the second, felt Cummins.
“[It] felt like we were in a really good position. Just probably a few runs short in the end. A few of the lessons learnt from last week we did learn in the first innings at times, then probably, just overplayed that in the second innings (sic),” he said.
Cummins said the loss was disappointing as his team was marginally ahead in the game after two days.
“I don’t think shock’s probably the right word. I think we’ve played a lot of fast-paced Test matches, especially over here. One session can seem a lot longer than two hours. I would say it’s more disappointment [than shock], knowing again how these opportunities don’t come up all the time, especially being relatively in front of the game. Feeling like the game is ours for the taking, just missed out.”
David Warner, who was ruled out of the Test after day one due to concussion, made an appearance in the Australian dressing room on day three. Cummins said the opening batter was still sore after getting hit on the arm and on the head. Looking ahead to the next Test, to be played in Indore from March 1-5, Cummins said: “We have a little bit of time so we’ll have a think. Have a look at different things. I think over the next day or two we might see whether there are changes in the squad as well. Mitchell Swepson’s got home, so he probably had a chance of coming back. Hopefully, Cameron Green’s available, and [Mitchell] Starc, [Josh] Hazlewood. So we’ll manage that. We’ll assess over the next couple of days, but probably got time to have a bit of a break, refresh, and then still plenty of time to roll up the sleeves before the next one.”
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