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Match hangs in balance on Day 3 as Cheteshwar Pujara leads India's fightback

Cheteshwar Pujara swaying out of the way of a Pat Cummins bouncer
Cheteshwar Pujara swaying out of the way of a Pat Cummins bouncer
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 09 Jan 2021, 07:53 IST
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Brief scores: India 180/4 (Shubman Gill 50, Cheteshwar Pujara 42*, Pat Cummins 2/24, Josh Hazlewood 1/29) trail by 158 runs to Australia 338 all out (Steve Smith 131, Marnus Labuschagne 91, Ravindra Jadeja 4/62, Jasprit Bumrah 2/66)

Cheteshwar Pujara’s nerves of steel and Rishabh Pant’s late counterattack have kept the match evenly poised after the first session on Day 3 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. India went into lunch on 180 for 4, still trailing by 158 runs with 64 overs remaining on Saturday (January 9).

Resuming on 96 for 4, India lost their in-form captain Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari to find themselves in a precarious position. But Pujara’s grit and determination coupled with Pant’s ability to take the attack to the bowlers from the word go ensured India scored 84 runs off 34 overs in the first session.

Australia surprisingly started the day with the off-spin of Nathan Lyon, and the tourists began on a positive note. They scored four runs off him, bringing up the team 100 in the very first over. But the 33-year-old was removed after a solitary over, making way for a bouncer barrage from Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc.

The duo were making both Rahane and Pujara play mostly off the back foot, with the former especially facing the majority of the chin music. The fuller balls, however, were dealt with relative ease as the Indian captain drove Starc through the covers to register the first boundary of Day 3.

Nathan Lyon, however, was brought back in the ninth over of the day, thus seemingly injecting life both into the match and the SCG pitch. He managed to get Rahane’s (then on 16) inside edge in the 54th over, only to see the ball balloon over Matthew Wade at short leg and land on the ground.

Two balls later, India’s No. 4 skipped down the track to lift the offie over long on to hit only the second six of the innings. Drama continued to unfold as Australia’s short-ball ploy finally paid dividends.

Rahane tried to cut a Cummins delivery, which was too close to cut and kept lower than what the visiting captain expected. He got a bottom edge onto his stumps to walk back for 22 off 70 balls. Both India and their batters looked to be on the back foot as the first 15 overs fetched just 25 runs.

Pujara, however, upped the ante by racking up two boundaries and a three off Nathan Lyon in the 62nd over. On the other hand, Hanuma Vihari – batting at No. 5 and also fighting for his place in the side – was largely circumspect.

He got his first run off the 13th ball he faced, and perished 15 balls later to a fantastic piece of fielding by Josh Hazlewood. Vihari (4 off 38) played a firm push to mid off from where Hazlewood dived to gather the ball and hit the stumps in one motion. India were reduced to 142 for 4 in the 68th over.

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Rishabh Pant helps India gain momentum

Rishabh Pant has hit three boundaries so far
Rishabh Pant has hit three boundaries so far

If Australia thought they had gone through the Indian batsmen – with only the wicketkeeper and all-rounders to follow – they were wrong. For even if it has just been a 45-ball stay in the middle, Rishabh Pant has somewhat changed the complexion of the match, making Indian fans optimistic of a first innings lead.

Mitchell Starc, who had accounted for Pant in the second Test, was immediately brought back in the attack. But the southpaw punched the speedster behind square on the off-side to open his account with a brace.

The Indian wicketkeeper-batsman didn’t appear jittery and afraid of playing his natural game. Cuts to balls on the shorter length, sweeps against Nathan Lyon came to the fore as Pant suddenly found himself on a 26-ball 24.

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However, one shouldn’t forget the probing line and lengths the Aussie bowlers have bowled for almost throughout the session. Be it the pace trio’s rising deliveries or Lyon’s dip, turn and bounce keeping the close-in fielders on their toes – the Indian batters barring Pujara never looked comfortable in the middle.

With Pujara batting on 42 off 144 balls and Pant on an unbeaten 45-ball 29, the post-lunch session of Day 3 can potentially decide the outcome of the match. While the duo have the ability to take India closer to Australia’s total, a few quick wickets will set the hosts up for a health first innings lead.


Published 09 Jan 2021, 07:53 IST
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