After intermittent rains on the first two days put the possibility of a result in jeopardy, a scarcely believable, dramatic Day 3 ensured that a draw was completely taken out of the equation. An embarrassing Indian collapse put the Aussies in driver’s seat, with them stretching their lead to 197.
The Pat Cummins spell that set the tone for the day
Australia did a fine choke-job late on Day 2, but really, India had the upper hand starting Day 3 on 96/2 with the sun shining and with Pujara and Rahane in the middle. Cummins’ five-over spell in the first hour, though, changed the entire complexion of the Test.
Forget the fact that he only conceded just 6 runs across 5 overs. Or the fact that two of those were maidens. It was simply what he managed to extract out of a largely non-demonic wicket for 30 straight deliveries that was astonishing. Starc from one end was doing a reasonably great job himself, using the short ball aimed at the body to great effect, but for both Pujara and Rahane, facing Cummins was a completely different ball-game altogether.
Sometimes he moved the ball in the air, sometimes he didn’t. Three balls jagged back, two went away. One rose up, two kept short. He put so much uncertainty on the minds of the batsmen through relentless consistency - this was skill level that transcended metronomic accuracy - that it eventually helped him get the better of the best batsman in the series.
The beauty of it all was it was as if he knew exactly how the ball would behave if it hit one particular zone in the wicket. Or as if he knew that, on this slowing SCG track, two balls would behave differently even if they landed in the same area. Knowledge is one thing, but to actually have the skill to go ahead and make use of it? There aren’t many in this world who possess that gift. Pat Cummins is one, and perhaps that’s why he’s also #1.
Yes, Cheteshwar Pujara needs to take a lion’s share of the blame
It has pretty much become the norm now, hasn’t it? After every Cheteshwar Pujara knock, there is a divide over his strike-rate. After his snail-ish knock on Day 1 of Adelaide - 43 off 160; 26.88 SR - he copped criticism from a section of fans for completely shutting shop and now he is once again in hot water after his rather ‘controversial’ knock today.
Let’s face it, though. In no way was Pujara’s knock today remotely ‘good’. The scorecard will say that he scored a fifty, but what he essentially did was occupy the best batting period in the innings, score far fewer than what he should have done and get out at the worst time imaginable, exposing the tail to the second new ball.
Chastising batsmen for ‘not scoring quickly’ in Tests is ludicrous, but with Pujara, really, it is not about that. The problem is how he actively refuses to score in good phases, very well knowing that batting will get difficult with time. Having seen off the late barrage on Day 2, Pujara started Day 3 on 9 (53), knowing there was a 35-over period before the second new ball that India needed to capitalize on.
Undeniably the Aussies bowled exceptionally well, yet with the sun belting down and with conditions relatively friendly for batting, Pujara crawled towards his slowest Test fifty. He would have been vindicated had he carried on and made it count, yet he perished just 9 overs into the second new-ball.
Rarely do Pujara’s gritty knocks hurt the side, but this was one. Rishabh Pant’s proactive 36, if anything, showed how much more India could have added had they batted with more purpose against the old ball.
Keeper or not, Rishabh Pant needs to be a permanent fixture in this Indian side
Yes, Rishabh Pant once again failed to convert a start. In each of his last 9 innings in Australia he has now passed 25, yet only once has he gone on to post a 50+ score. Yes, these 20s and 30s and 40s won’t cut it if he is going to bat at No.6. Not if he is going to be substandard behind the stumps. But you will have to be incredibly naive to believe that he doesn’t walk into this side as a specialist batsman.
Forget his SENA tons, forget the 159* in Sydney. Just in this series, in the two knocks he’s played, Pant has galvanized the Indian batting twice. At MCG, he walked in at 116/4 with India having lost 3 wickets in the morning session and Australia on top. He only amassed 29, but by the time he exited, he’d wrestled back the momentum. Today was no different. At 142/4, India were once again in trouble of enduring a mega collapse, yet Pant nonchalantly shifted the momentum. India were even in the driver’s seat at one point, before he was tragically struck on his arm.
To reduce Pant’s impact to just ‘aggression’ is also myopic. As CricViz points out, he’s had the lowest false-shot percentage (9.5%) of any batsman in this series. For him to boast of such a record in a series which features the likes of Smith, Labuschagne, Pujara and Rahane proves that his prowess against the red-ball extends well beyond just his ability to attack, which is precisely why he needs to be a long-term lock in the Indian Test side, regardless of whether he plays as a keeper or a batsman.