RANCHI : Glenn Maxwell was asked a day earlier how he thought the pitch would behave on Saturday. His reply was simple. “I’ve no idea. Hope it explodes.”
That was not happening and on a surface where the teams have little idea how things would be on the next two days, the third day saw a riveting contest between bat and ball. Indians arrived with a plan to see out the first session, get some momentum going and look for runs in the second and third sessions. But it was easier said than done.
Australia knew the pitch had runs and their bowlers made sure that India had to earn every one of those. First session: 73/1 in 30.4 overs. 2nd session: 110/2 in 29.2 overs. 3rd session: 57/2 in 31 overs. In the morning with some reverse-swing, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood kept attacking the stumps with a strong leg-side field. Even when they erred, it was on and around off stump, meaning Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara got no room to free their hands.
Steve O’Keefe tried hitting the rough around leg stump by operating over the wicket and all that Indians could do was to keep padding or defending. Nathan Lyon, still searching for his first wicket since taking eight on the first day in Bengaluru, bowled with attacking fields. Against him too, Vijay and Pujara were happy defending and waiting patiently for loose deliveries.
“We thought in the middle session our fast bowlers bowled too full. It was driven often and clipped to the leg side and we thought if we bowled back of a length, it would be hard to score. With the spinners, we thought with the only rough part on the pitch outside leg stump, we might have to attack that.
The second session got away from us a bit and we had to change it to get the momentum. We had a really good last session, but would have liked two more wickets. It's not easy prizing wickets on surfaces like this. But it was great Test cricket that was enthralling to watch.
Hopefully back home, people were enjoying it too,” Australia's bowling coach David Saker said of the plan of his bowlers.
Barring Umesh Yadav on the opening day, who got a few up to the throat, no other pacer got as much carry as Cummins. Returning to Test cricket after six years, he was always going to be handy in these conditions, thanks to the air speed he generates. He consistently hurried the Indians with pace on the slow surface.
Figures of 4/59 were more effective than they looked, and Saker was all praise for him. “I thought yesterday he bowled particularly well and today he backed it up. To produce some of the balls that he did to get wickets is pretty exciting. Ball speed in India is a big thing because the wickets don’t generate pace. He performed above expectations.”
The Indians had their hero in Pujara, who completed an 11th century. Mostly playing his own game of occupying crease and waiting for bowlers to pitch it in his areas, Pujara shouldered responsibility all by himself from the moment Vijay got out. He was the only one who handled Cummins well and because of him India dominated the second session.
Against Cummins, Pujara scored 35 off 50 balls. O’Keefe tested his patience by bowling in the leg-stump channel, but Pujara chose to stay safe rather than manufacturing shots. Unbeaten on 130, he knows there is work to do on Sunday.