Australia adopted a defensive approach suddenly after Rishabh Pant counter-attacked Pat Cummins and that became a story with India ending Day 2 with a lead of 82 runs in the first innings. Meanwhile, Hanuma Vihari batted with pedigree power but his dismissal was contrasting to his normal style.
Failing to channel his prime virtue, Vihari digs his own grave
Much before Hanuma Vihari became an Indian Test Cricketer, he was a domestic behemoth. Piling runs in every nook and cranny of the country, on dustbowls and green tops, all around, Vihari made sure his water-tight technique reaped runs galore. Playing with a forward press and then using his trigger to get the better of spinners was a sight you would die for. For the major part of his stay in the middle on the Day 2 of the Boxing Day Test, he used his muscle memory to tackle Nathan Lyon who was generating some unbelievable turn, even after the moisture stopped playing its part.
You would have backed anyone else to be as comfortable in this scenario as Hanuma Vihari is, for this was the bread and butter for him at home, and thus the dismissal was simply inexcusable. Sure enough, the runs were coming far and few in between, with the shackle pushing them to the brink, but this was just the second session of Day 2. One can simply buy time to do the donkey’s job and playing aggressive scoring shots should have been the last option.
However, Vihari, grittiness personified till that point, wanting to break the shackle, went aerial multiple times. Sweeping was a bad option if the shots would have to be checked at the last moment and that proved to be his death knell eventually. He wouldn’t have done that at home conditions when the turn was true to the milieu. That was the difference between Vihari getting another overseas fifty and being dismissed for a rather tame 21.
Pant forces Aussies to change their tactics
Rishabh Pant is a real gem, at least in Test cricket. We had seen this in England, in Australia and at home against the Windies. When he is set, oppositions will have to put in double effort to ensure the game stays within the reach. But at times, even the best effort is not enough as the Aussie bowlers realised during the course of his 29-run innings which changed the momentum straightaway.
Vihari was back in the hut and it was a big test for Pant to keep the pressure at bay. Rahane was fully decisive in his approach and with no untoward play till that point, a nice partnership was all the side needed. Pant not only provided the same but also did it in a way that left many squabbling. He took on Cummins at first, forcing him to change his approach of bowling wicket-taking balls to going defensive right away.
Once Cummins changed his bowling method, Lyon couldn’t sustain either, making sure Ajinkya Rahane got some freebies at the other end. It was a passage of play India would have loved the most as it allowed them a level of comfort to go for riskier options later. Thank Rishabh Pant for that.
Australia let the game slip away, but big challenges ahead
On a bowling friendly strip, Day 2 is as important an affair as Day 3 is and even a slight change in momentum will be hard on the team losing it. The freakish Adelaide affair was an anomaly and an equivalent of it will not be repeated 90 out of 100 times, thus it was paramount for the Aussies to build on the momentum they received by dismissing Shubman Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara. But alas, how good were India after that!
Mitchell Starc was quick but he lacked the rhythm. Pat Cummins was fierce but he lost it after a while. Josh Hazlewood was accurate but he was trying to navigate through rather than forcing a wicket. It left Nathan Lyon to do the bulk work but somehow, Tim Paine was not fully convinced. It allowed India the right amount of luck and pedigree to force a comeback and even add some quick runs in the process.
Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin’s presence in the Indian bowling line-up meant Australia had to contain the run-flow so that they don’t have to face a spin barrage in the middle overs. But from the looks of it, they have lost that edge by now and India have taken a step in the right direction to comfortably reduce the gap for a fourth innings audacity - which has not really been India’s ally in recent years.