The failure of India’s famed top-order against a high-quality pace attack in a pressure game put Australia in firm control of the World Test Championship final in London on Thursday. Ravindra Jadeja (48 off 51 balls) and Ajinkya Rahane (29 batting off 71) offered hope to the partisan Indian supporters at The Oval with a 71-run stand off 100 balls before the former fell to Nathan Lyon 20 minutes before close of play. India were reeling at 151 for five at stumps in response to Australia’s first innings score of 469, trailing by 318 runs.
While the Indian bowlers failed to use the bouncer effectively on day one, the likes of Shubman Gill (13) and Cheteshwar Pujara (14) committed the cardinal sin of misjudging the line and length on a pitch with variable bounce.
Australia added 142 runs to their overnight total for the loss of seven wickets before being bowled out one hour into the afternoon session. Mohammed Siraj cleaned up the tail and was the pick of India’s bowlers with four wickets.
Leaving the ball is a key element of batting in English conditions and that is where Gill and Pujara were found wanting. The in-form Gill showed promise before he inexplicably decided to leave an incoming ball from Boland, leaving his stumps rattled.
Pujara, who had the advantage of being in England well before his teammates arrived, offered no shot to a length ball from Cameron Green that cut in sharply from fourth stump.
The slide began with the fall of skipper Rohit Sharma (15) who missed an angled in ball from Cummins in the sixth over to be trapped lbw.
Indian superstar Virat Kohli (14) got a snorter from Mitchell Starc that he could not do much about, leaving India at 71 for four. Rahane and Jadeja tried to hang in there but the Aussie pacers were constantly asking questions.
Rahane also had some luck going his way as he was adjudged lbw off a Cummins no ball when he was batting on 17.
Jadeja showed good intent with his innings comprising seven fours and a fine flick off Boland that went all the way for a six.
India were 37 for two in 10 overs at the tea break with the openers already back in the hut.
After the lunch break, Alex Carey pushed Australia past 450 with a 48 off 69 balls. His innings included a six off Jadeja but an attempted reverse sweep the following ball led to his downfall, trapping him in front of the stumps.
India got themselves back in the game with four wickets in the morning session but Australia maintained their upper hand by reaching 422 for seven at lunch, following Steve Smith’s 31st hundred.
Resuming the day on 327 for three, Travis Head (163 off 174) and Smith (121 off 268) walked into the middle under bright sunshine at The Oval.
Smith, who was on 95 overnight, got two freebies on the pads from Mohammed Siraj in the first over of the day and he happily put them away for consecutive boundaries to complete his seventh hundred in England and third at the venue.
India were guilty of not using the short ball tactic early enough on the opening day but Siraj went for that from the get on Thursday. Mohammed Shami too tried to mix it up with an odd bouncer but was not able to get the same zip from the surface as Siraj.
While Smith was not bothered by India’s tactic, Head looked in a bit of discomfort.
Siraj banged one short onto his body in the sixth over of the day and Head walked across the stumps to pull it but ended up edging it to wicketkeeper K S Bharat, ending an epic 285-run stand.
Cameron Green was the next to go as he went for an expansive drive off a full ball from Shami but ended up being caught at second slip by an alert Gill.
The prized wicket of Smith came out of nowhere as he dragged an innocuous ball from Shardul Thakur back on to his stumps. It was Thakur’s first ball of the day, highlighting his uncanny ability to provide a breakthrough out of the blue.
A brilliant piece of fielding from substitute Axar Patel got India their fourth wicket of the day as his one-handed direct hit from mid off left Mitchell Starc well short of his ground.
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