WTC final 2023: Sloppy Australia stay on top after Jadeja's double strike
LONDON: India's Ravindra Jadeja took two prize wickets but Australia remained in command of the World Test Championship final despite an error-strewn display at The Oval on Friday.
Jadeja removed first-innings century-makers Steve Smith and Travis Head but a third day of dropped catches, wickets off no-balls and rash shots still ended with Australia 296 runs ahead at 123-4 in their second innings.
Marnus Labuschagne, the world's top-ranked Test batsman, survived several painful blows on a pitch of variable bounce to be 41 not out at stumps.
When Scott Boland knocked over Srikar Bharat's stumps with just the second ball of the day, India were 317 runs behind with only four first-innings wickets standing.
But Ajinkya Rahane (89) and Shardul Thakur (51) then made the most of Australia's mistakes a week before the first Ashes Test against England during a seventh-wicket stand of 109.
India surged past the follow-on total before they were eventually dismissed for 296.
Australia captain Pat Cummins took 3-83 in his 20 overs but his figures would have been better but for six no-balls. And Australia were 2-1 when under-pressure opener David Warner, who had managed just one century in his previous 33 Test innings, was caught behind off Mohammed Siraj.
Usman Khawaja, Warner's opening partner, fell cheaply for the second time this match when, on 13, he followed a first-innings duck by carelessly edging a wide ball from Umesh Yadav to wicketkeeper Bharat as the paceman took his first wicket of the final.
Left-arm spinner Jadeja then removed Smith and Head, although both batsmen played a part in their own downfall.
Star batsman Smith had spent just over five-and-a-half hours at the crease for 121 in Australia's first-innings 469.
But on Friday he gave his wicket away for 34 when he skyed a drive off Jadeja to cover.
Head's dynamic 163 had established Australia's strong position in the final. He continued to attack Friday only for a quickfire 18 to end when, attempting a booming drive against the turn out of the rough, his miscued shot gave Jadeja a simple return catch.
Australia were now 111-4, still a lead of 284 against an India side missing Ravichandran Ashwin after the star off-spinner, the world's top-ranked Test bowler, was omitted in favour of an extra seamer.
Earlier, both Rahane and Thakur were struck by nasty blows, while all-rounder Thakur was dropped twice in single figures, including on eight when he edged Cummins to gully only for Cameron Green to floor a straightforward chance.
And just before lunch, Thakur appeared lbw to fast bowler Cummins only for the batsman's review to reveal a no-ball.
Rahane, who would have been lbw for 17 on Thursday but for another Cummins no-ball, hooked the Australia skipper for a sweetly timed six to complete a 92-ball fifty -- a shot greeted by raucous cheers from the massed ranks of India fans in a sun-drenched crowd of over 25,000.
Rahane was reprieved again on 72 when he edged Cummins only for wicketkeeper Alex Carey not to commit to a catch, with first slip Warner unable to cling on to a desperate left-hand grab.
But Rahane was denied a hundred in his first Test in over a year after an edge off Cummins was brilliantly caught one-handed by a diving Green in the gully.