Vijay carves out another century as India manages to take a 91-run lead
Test cricket can be intriguing; each session a fascinating challenge. That is the beauty of the game. There can be short phases of ennui and long spells of action.
On Sunday, at the PCA Stadium here, boredom was pronounced when India laboured to gather runs but it was thrilling when Bhuvneshwar Kumar, with three wickets, created stifling moment for Australia in the last session, making the ball talk and leaving the opponents speechless.
If India could back itself to win the third Test, it has Bhuvneshwar to fall back on. If you believed Australians could not play spin, the sight of them being repeatedly foxed by Bhuvneshwar was not good advertisement for their cricket at all!
Bhuvneshwar had a few tricks up his sleeve and Australia lay deeply wounded from his lethal strikes.
At close, the visitor, 91 runs in arrears, was still 16 runs adrift with seven wickets in hand and a deteriorating pitch to confront.
Australia had done well earlier to restrict India to just 216 after it had resumed at 283 for no loss. Murali Vijay, a batsman with sound technique and an innate desire to dominate, reached his second century in a row, third overall, and looked good for a double century when Mitchell Starc ended his innings.
Vijay was second to partner Shikhar Dhawan only in terms of entertainment. The solidity that he brings at the top should help India when it competes overseas.
The deficit had been contained by Australia but importantly India was stopped from making the most of a splendid start. The momentum in India’s batting was missing because the man who could trigger a racy course was consumed early in the morning. It was a travesty when Dhawan, in sensational touch on the third day, succumbed to a tame push that was taken at silly point.
That Michael Clarke could confront him with a fielder in that position was good thinking indeed.
Dhawan, overnight 185, would have been an essential facilitator for India to set a scorching pace but he left his natural game behind.
The tentative push from the face of the bat was firm but in the air. The left-hander’s rousing show ended with a whimper.
So did Cheteshwar Pujara’s short stay when he fell to a poor decision by umpire Aleem Dar, who failed to spot the inside-edge. Pujara lingered at the crease and returned shaking his head.
The spectators greeted the next man, Sachin Tendulkar, with thunderous applause. Tendulkar is used to this now. Walking in to a sound ovation and departing in a similar ambience, the spectators again rising to salute him. But then this is a shadow of a master who set benchmarks all through his career, batted on his terms, unrelenting. Not that he was troubled by bad form in the past but he emerged from them in quick time. This one has prolonged and troubled him like never before.
Smith’s dream moment
The harder Tendulkar looks to find his groove the tougher it gets for him. A trademark straight drive and cover drive gave glimpses of avintage past but his dismissal was meek, a forward prod ending at short leg. His wicket meant the world for Steve Smith, playing his sixth Test, the first against India. To get Tendulkar with your first ever ball to him can be a dream moment. Smith lived his at Mohali.
Spectators began to melt away in the afternoon as India slid after Starc struck with the new ball. The first delivery accounted for Vijay, who offered no shot after misreading the swing, and soon skipper Dhoni joined him in the dressing room, also misreading the swing. Virat Kohli hung in but ran out of partners.
Those who had stayed back were in for some excitement as Australia, vulnerable against the slow ball, failed to cope with Bhuvneshwar’s seam and swing. Barring Phil Hughes, the Australian failed to apply. David Warner fell to a T20 shot, a swish away from the body; Ed Cowan and Steve Smith were snared by movement.
Australia found itself in a familiar back-to-the-wall position with Clarke suffering from a recurring back problem. India on Monday can look to take a 3-0 lead in the series.