India's batting woes continue ahead of third Australia test
By Sudipto Ganguly
BENGALURU (Reuters) - India might have levelled the series against Australia with a dramatic 75-run win in the second test but the hosts will head off to Ranchi knowing their recent batting woes have not gone away.
Before the start of the four-match series, India had posted 600-plus totals in their previous three innings, against England and Bangladesh. Their first three innings against Australia were all below 200.
While India failed to come to grips with the left-arm spin of Steve O'Keefe in the series opener in Pune, being bundled out for 105 and 107, it was off-spinner Nathan Lyon who ran through their first innings in Bengaluru with an eight-wicket haul.
The 189 they made at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium immediately put them on the backfoot and they needed a heroic fightback to tie the series at 1-1, with the penultimate match to be played at Ranchi from March 16.
After Australia took a first-innings lead of 87, India's hopes of a win appeared remote when they were reduced to 120-4 on the third day with the pitch offering inconsistent bounce and big turn.
But Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane hit dogged half-centuries and combined in a fifth-wicket stand of 118 to prop up the total and help set Australia a challenging target of 188.
"I think they played some good cricket in their second innings batting," Australia captain Steve Smith told reporters.
"The partnership between Pujara and Rahane was a really good one. Gave them a reasonable lead."
Once Mitchell Starc broke the partnership with the new ball, India lost five wickets for just 20 runs in 19 deliveries.
The lack of a solid start has put the pressure on India's batting - the 39 runs Lokesh Rahul and Abhinav Mukund put on in the second innings in Bengaluru was the best opening stand for the hosts in the series.
India captain Virat Kohli hit four double hundreds in as many series before Pune but his cold run with the willow - just 40 runs from his four innings - has contributed to the team's batting problems.
The impact of the fifth-wicket partnership was not lost on Kohli either and he thought it was up there with any the side produced during the 19-test unbeaten run that was ended by Australia's victory in Pune.
"I feel that the partnership between Ajinkya and Pujara, in a situation where the momentum was against us in the series, was outstanding," Kohli said after the victory.
"In the last two years, it's one of the top two partnerships, or maybe number one, because retrieving the lost momentum and giving the team the lead was a question of character, and they both showed why they are India's best test batsmen."
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)