Ravichandran Ashwin has been one of the consistent performers for India on home conditions in the recent past and his impact on the side became even more evident from the fact that he dislodged James Anderson to become the top-ranked Test bowler in the world. As a result, it came as a major surprise to everyone that skipper Rohit Sharma waited around 15 overs to hand the bowl to his top spinner on Day 2 of the third Test against Australia in Indore. While the spin threat was being provided by Ravindra Jadeja, it was Ashwin who ultimately provided the first breakthrough of the day as he dismissed Peter Handscomb. Ravi Shastri, Mitchell Johnson and Ajit Agarkar were all taken aback by the choice made by Rohit and during their commentary, all of the ex-players made it a point to discuss his decision.
“Don’t think India have been spot-on with their tactics. No Ashwin in the first hour? He is your premier bowler and has bowled only 16 overs so far. I know Axar Patel is playing as a specialist spinner but got to go to Ashwin. It’s baffling,” Agarkar remarked while he was commentating.
Johnson agreed with the assessment and expressed surprise at the decision.
“It’s what he does to the right-handers from around the wicket that can really cause confusion. One might spin, and one might not. We’ve already seen Smith in this series, the one that ran past his bat.”
“At the moment, it seems that the pitch has lost a bit of a bite but certainly there’s a lot in it,” Agarkar continued. “He has been warming up since morning,” Shastri responded to the comment.
India were staring at a rare defeat at home despite Cheteshwar Pujara‘s plucky half-century as veteran Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon flattened the host with his eight-wicket haul on day two of the third Test here Thursday.
India did well to end Australia’s first innings at 197, conceding a 88-run first innings lead after Steve Smith’s side began at 156 for 4 but negotiating quality spin in favourable conditions remained a challenge for them.
The hosts were bowled out for 163 in their second innings, which means that Australia need just 76 runs to cherish a rare Test win in India as India have lost only two Tests at home in the last 10 years.
Australia bring the best out of Pujara (59 off 142) and that was on full display at the Holkar Stadium but he did not get the support that was needed from the other batters as India came up with another underwhelming batting performance on a rank turner.
India were in the game as long as Pujara was there but a sensational catch from Steve Smith at leg-slip towards close of play put the visitors on cusp of a memorable victory.
Lyon ended with remarkable figures of eight for 64 in 23.3 overs. Siraj getting bowled while attempting a wild slog brought stumps on day four with India’s innings lasting 60.3 overs.
Besides being impressive with the ball, the Australians were brilliant in the field, especially with the momentum-changing catches of Pujara and Sheryas Iyer (26 off 27).
The shot selection of Shubman Gill and Virat Kohli left a lot to be desired as Lyon bossed over the home team.
After being reduced to 79 for four at tea, Pujara and Iyer’s counter attacking 35-run stand raised hopes of a fighting seconds innings lead but a flying Usman Khawaja took a stunning catch at mid-wicket to send back the latter.
Iyer went for horizontal shots against spinners, especially Kuhnemann, and executed them well until a moment of brilliance from Khawaja got the better of him.
Gill (5), coming into the side in place of K L Rahul, suffered his second failure of the game after getting beaten in the flight by Lyon. He went for an ugly hoick but ended up getting castled.
Lyon also got rid of India skipper Rohit (12), who was trapped in front after misjudging the length of the ball.
Kohli’s (13) was adjudged LBW after attempting a pull off left-arm spinner Matthew Kuhnemann on a track offering spin and uneven bounce.
Pujara looked the most solid of the Indian batters. He used his feet brilliantly. Pujara hit the first boundary of the innings, a cover drive, by stepping out to Lyon.
He mostly played on the front foot but stayed back to put a short ball from Kuhnemann between the mid-on and mid-wicket fielder. Four balls later, he came down the track for a confident straight drive.
He was dropped on 50, a tough chance at cover, before coming up with the shot of the innings. Ishan Kishan came out with a message towards close of play. The content of that message could not be confirmed but what followed was a massive six over mid-wicket as Pujara stepped out to a rampaging Lyon.
In the morning session, the pace-spin combination of Umesh Yadav and R Ashwin ran through the Australian batting line-up.
After a rather quiet first hour, when only 30 runs were scored in 16 overs without any wicket, India lost their last six wickets for just 11 runs after starting the day at 156 for four.
Ashwin and Yadav took three wickets each to script India’s fightback after a forgettable opening day. Though India did not pick up any wicket in the first hour, they did not allow Peter Handscomb (19 off 98) and Cameron Green (21 off 57) easy runs with Mohammed Siraj and Jadeja keeping things tight.
As it has been the case throughout the series, the wickets came in a heap after India broke the resistance of Handscomb, whose ultra defensive innings came to end with an inside edge flying to Iyer at short-leg off Aswhin.
Ashwin surprisingly had to wait for almost an hour to get his first over of the day and when he did, the wily operator made the ball talk.
He got also rid of Alex Carey (3) and Lyon (5) to end with figures of three for 44 in 20.3 overs.
Umesh, who targeted the stumps successfully, trapped Green in front by getting one to straighten slightly off middle-stump in his very first over.
He cleaned up the tail by bowling fast and straight from round the wicket, leaving Mitchell Starc (1) and Toddy Murphy clueless (0).
(With PTI inputs)
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