India 262 (Axar 74, Kohli 44, Lyon 5-67) and 118 for 4 beat Australia 263 (Khawaja 81, Handscomb 72*, Shami 4-60) and 113 (Head 43, Jadeja 7-42, Ashwin 3-59) by six wickets
When Test matches in India are hurtling towards results at such breakneck speed, what we see doesn’t always make sense. Like Ashwin looking the better bowler, but Jadeja coming back from an ordinary start to run through Australia. Or the sweep shot, and the variations thereof, going from Australia’s best friend to their biggest enemy within minutes.
The sweep, which resulted in six wickets in the second innings, had actually put India under immense pressure. At one point, Australia had scored 71 runs off 27 sweeps for just two wickets. Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne had used it distract India, forcing them to put fielders back for the shot. It was the shot that opened up the field for Labuschagne as Australia had India worried: Jadeja went for 31 in his first six overs, Ashwin was going over four himself, and Australia looked set to go well past 150, which would have been a challenging target on this pitch.
That despite a beauty from Ashwin early on to take out the threatening Travis Head, beating the left-hander in the flight and then taken by the keeper. However, when Steven Smith played the big sweep off Ashwin, it was only the 18th time he was playing the shot in India. He missed the offbreak and was adjudged lbw.
With a lead of 86 and seven wickets in hand, Australia still had the advantage. Ashwin, though, had created that bit of an opening. Warner’s concussion replacement, Matt Renshaw, didn’t look as assured. He began with two unsure sweeps first two balls, and eventually fell lbw to Ashwin on the sweep.
With the bit between his teeth, Jadeja was about to get lethal, bowling at high pace, one ball turning the other going straight. Peter Handscomb edged the one that turned, Pat Cummins missed the straighter one on the slog-sweep. Nathan Lyon survived the hat-trick ball, but the panic had well and truly set in.
Things had happened so quickly – four wickets had fallen with the score on 95 – that there was hardly any time to regroup. Australia’s attacking approach – which had given them a first-innings lead despite batting fewer overs than India – meant the price to pay was steep once things went wrong.
This is also where Jadeja proved dangerous by attacking the stumps. Alex Carey missed a straight ball on the reverse-sweep, Lyon played on going for a big hit, and Matt Kuhnemann played on while reverse-sweeping.
If there was a criticism of Australia’s approach, it wasn’t about their aggressive approach or sweep shots, but that they didn’t give themselves a chance to bat later in the day. On the first two days, batting got easier as the day progressed.
Still, 115 was not going to be an easy target to chase down. Funny things happen during such chases in India. Like a struggling batter flicking one cleanly but getting out caught by the wicketkeeper after the ball bounces off the short-leg fielder’s pads. KL Rahul was the 10th wicket of the first session.
India’s response post lunch was a proactive one. The idea was for Cheteshwar Pujara to try to bat through while the others put pressure back on the bowlers. Rohit Sharma did that as well as anybody. In the second over after lunch, he skipped down and lofted Lyon over wide long-on for a six followed by a paddle-sweep for four.
Then Rohit went after Kuhnemann too, going past Ian Botham’s 67 Test sixes to move to No. 21 on the all-time list. However, he ran himself out when he called Pujara for a second run and then stopped midway. He didn’t assert himself though he was looking almost flawless in his 31 off 20, but accepted his mistake and kept on running.
Pujara could have possibly sacrificed his wicket by running back, but he went on to be the anchor around whom the others could put in the cameos required to take India through. Virat Kohli made a breezy 20 off 31 before he was stumped, Shreyas Iyer took 12 off 10 before holing out to deep midwicket, and India now needed 27 with six wickets in hand.
With the win, India all but ensured they will face Australia in the World Test Championship final. Even if India lose the remaining two Tests, it will need Sri Lanka to beat New Zealand 2-0 in New Zealand to deny India a place in the final.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
(With Inputs from ESPN)
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