Whew! That was some day at Test cricket. While I spent the first two days, waking up before 5 am (that when play starts, India time) and dozing on the couch and waiting for ‘That’s a four!’ from one of the commentators, there was hardly any time to blink today. This day was more like “He’s got him!” The situation at the end of the third day in the third Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy has changed quite drastically. Two fast bowlers from either side, both 25 years old, brought about this upheaval.
Jasprit Bumrah for India and Pat Cummins for Australia, ran amok today accounting for ten of the fifteen wickets to fall. Both the bowlers made great use of the nature of wicket which had been mostly written off for its dual pace an unpredictable bounce and had led to the batsmen being edgy. While Virat Kohli will be rueing his decision not to enforce the follow-on, Tim Paine will be wondering how soon his bowlers can dismiss the Indian batsmen tomorrow. The forecasters say there is a likelihood of rain tomorrow and the day after. Unless it rains for an extended period of time, this match is going to end in a result. One of the two pacers, who will be mighty pleased with their performances today, will be going into the new year on cloud nine.
A brilliant change in field placing in the morning saw Finch trying to flick a ball from Sharma off his pads to midwicket. Mayank Agarwal, who had been shifted from the covers to short mid-wicket just before the ball was bowled, took a sharp catch diving to his left. Not much later Harris tried to hook a short-pitched delivery from Bumrah and was beaten by the pace ending up giving a catch to Ishant Sharma at long leg. Usman Khawaja miss-read a slower ball from Jadeja and lobbed a simple catch to Pujara. Shaun Marsh and Travis Head negotiated the next 12 overs quite well though not without some scares with the Indian bowlers bowling brilliantly.
It was the last ball before the lunch break when Bumrah bowled a slower ball to Marsh. Not much faster than one of Jadeja’s faster balls, the inswinging yorker caught Marsh plumb in front of the wicket. Australia had now scored 89 runs for 4 wickets. Three overs later, into the post-lunch session, Bumrah clean bowled Head with a yorker that swung back a long way. A ball from Jadeja that landed in the rough led Mitchell Marsh to edge it to the slips. Paine and Cummins batted patiently for another almost 17 overs till Cummins succumbed to a Mohammed Shami in-swinger and played on. Australia went into the tea break with the score at 145 for seven.
Paine was the first to go after tea when he snicked an angled ball by Bumrah to the keeper. It did not take the Indian pacer long to account for Lyon and Hazlewood. While the former was caught leg before the wicket in front of the stumps by a yorker, the latter edged a full-length ball on to his stumps. At this stage, India had a lead of 292 runs and could enforce the follow-on. The way things were, I expected Kohli to do that. But for a reason as strange as the one that made him declare the Indian first inning, he opted to bat. If he had apprehensions about batting last on a deteriorating pitch to score what might not have been very many runs, he had not bargained for what Pat Cummins had in store for him and the other Indian batsmen.
The two Indian openers started well but not without the tentativeness displayed by those who went before them. Cummins, like Bumrah, bowled a barrage of well-directed short balls mixed with fuller deliveries to keep the batsmen guessing. He got Vihari with one such bouncer off the last ball of the 13th over. The batsman could only fend the ball off to Khawaja at gully. In his next over he had Pujara caught by Harris at leg gully off a fuller ball when the batsman tried to flick the ball. Harris was busy in that over. He had to catch Kohli on the last ball of the over when he tried to deflect it from waist height and Cummins had three wickets in three overs while conceding just two runs.
Come his fourth over Cummins had Rahane caught Paine on the leg side off his first ball and was on a hat-trick. Rohit Sharma denied him that pleasure but just narrowly as he timed a ball past leg gully far too well to be caught. Hazlewood got Rohit Sharma when the latter tried to cut a ball that was too close to his body and was caught by Shaun Marsh. India was on 54 runs for five wickets when the teams retired for the day. Mayank Agarwal on 28 runs and Rishab Pant, on 6 were at the crease. Eight of the fifteen wickets fell in the last session alone and while Bumrah took the first three, Cummins claimed four in the Indian second inning.
Things have not gone the way that Virat Kohli had expected them to. But he still has a lead of 346 runs and a few wickets that could add to the Australian target. The match is still for Australia to lose. The only way that they can come out of it is they surpass whatever target India sets them. But with the condition of the pitch, the demons that the batsmen have in their minds and with motivated bowlers, it is very much a long shot. Only mild rains have been forecast and if anything, they are only going to affect the concentration of the Australian bowlers. The Indians have the best chance to take an unassailable lead in this test and fend off the Australians in Brisbane to write a new chapter in their Test cricketing history.