After enduring a torrid time on the field on Day 3, the duo of Steve Smith and Cameron Green took the game away from India on Day 4, but courageous knocks from Gill and Rohit kept the hosts alive heading into the final day. Chasing 407 might be far-fetched, but India can still dare to dream.
Navdeep Saini brings the much-anticipated X-factor
If on the first two days there was apprehension over the selection of Navdeep Saini - which eventually translated into rants over the omission of Thakur and Natarajan - on day 4 the speedster proved precisely why the management were right to back him, at least on this surface.
On just his fourth ball of the day, Saini cut Steve Smith into half. For 330 balls across two innings, the maestro remained fully untroubled, yet on ball 331, even he couldn’t help but concede defeat to Saini, who beat him on his inside edge. Those who watched him bowl on day 1 might have branded it an oddity, yet it turned out to be the sign of things to come. In a hostile seven over spell (7-2-19-2) Saini accounted for the wickets of both Labuschagne and Wade, and proved to be India’s most effective and threatening bowler in the session.
The burst from Saini was far from perfect - there were at least a handful of overpitched deliveries and he did occasionally stray. But what he showed in those 42 intense deliveries he sent down was how and why he could be mighty effective in the right environment. Steaming in, he hit the deck hard relentlessly and exploited the variable bounce on offer, while also managing to nip the ball back on the odd occasion. It was a spell not too different to what we’ve come to witness from Mitchell Starc over the years, one that might serve as an ideal blueprint for Saini as he continues to mature.
No shame in admitting that I, like several others, was perhaps a tad too harsh in my assessment of the debutant a couple of days ago.
Ravichandran Ashwin’s underwhelming day out
It is days like these which kind of give a timely reminder as to why Ravichandran Ashwin is still considered by many to be an under-performer, despite possessing outrageous numbers. Though he managed to pick the all-important wicket of Steve Smith, Day 4, for Ashwin, was an unwelcome call back to his infamous mid 2010s days when he was a liability away from home.
Ashwin was summoned to bowl by the skipper on the back of an exceptional first half hour from Bumrah and Siraj, and with Australia’s lead still only 208, the game was still within India’s reach. But within a handful of overs it became evident that a long day lay ahead for both him and the Indian supporters. Not only was the off-spinner bland and lacklustre, he also looked like a bowler lost; not once in the day he stuck to one plan religiously. This was symbolized by how after getting the better of Smith bowling a fifth-stump line, he immediately, rather flabbergastingly, reverted to a negative leg-side line to Tim Paine.
Looking pretty short - both physically and mentally - Ashwin got proportionally worse as the day progressed and pretty much surrendered by the time he was into his 23rd over, after which he was toyed with by Tim Paine.
In the absence of Shami, Ishant, Umesh and Jadeja, Bumrah and Ashwin needed to step up. One did, albeit without any luck, but the other, unfortunately, didn’t.
Gill and Rohit vindicate the selectors
Few axings have stirred as much controversy as that of Mayank Agarwal. The Karnataka man was shown the door after scores of 17, 9, 0 and 5 across the first two Tests to accommodate Rohit Sharma, despite averaging 47.85 after 13 Tests. He had and has every right to feel aggrieved, for, regardless of how dodgy his new-found technique looked, he had the numbers to warrant a long(er) rope.
Yet after the showing of both Gill and Rohit at SCG, you wonder if the selectors made the right call, and if this is what India will stick to in the months to come. And yes, this despite Rohit perishing trying to hit a six 20 minutes before stumps whilst attempting to save the match.
On the back of the opening partnership being broken before the fifth over in each of the first four innings of the series, Rohit and Gill lasted more than 20 overs in both innings, adding two 70 or more run stands. The conditions and the situation they batted in was far from ‘easy’ and at no point did either batter look defeated. Most importantly though, they dominated the Australian bowlers in the first opportunity that was presented, putting the bowlers under the pump, something no other pair managed all series.
6.00 PM Sydney time on Monday might be far away, but should India miraculously get there without losing 10 wickets, they will know who to thank for the same. It was not a perfect effort, but it was more than what the visitors could have asked for,