Indore: Cheteshwar Pujara summoned his famed powers of concentration to extract a half-century in tough conditions and keep India alive but Steve Smith’s sharp catch at leg-slip to dismiss him towards the end of the second day’s play pushed Australia back into driver’s seat in the third Test at the Holkar Stadium.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon was the storm that hit India’s ship — his 8/64 helping Australia dismiss India for 163 runs and leaving them with a target of 76 to win.
The game see-sawed through the day as batsmen remained confused on whether to apply and score slowly or play the big shots.
Australia, who had begun the day on the overnight 156/4, treaded cautiously in the first hour adding 30 runs without losing a wicket.
But the introduction of off-spinner R Ashwin and pace bowler Umesh Yadav, who weren’t bowled in the first hour at all, pushed Australia off the track.
Within the next 6.3 overs, the innings ended as Australia succumbed to 197 from 186/4 – losing six wickets for just 11 runs.
Ashwin got rid of Peter Handscomb (19), having him caught at short-leg before Yadav had Cameron Green (21) leg-before wicket.
The right-arm pacer, known to be effective on scuffed up wickets with his pace and reverse swing, then sent the off-stump cartwheeling as Mitchell Starc (1) was beaten by slight movement.
“On these kinds of pitches, where there isn’t much help for swinging the ball. I tried to use the cross seam and hit a particular length. The ball was skidding too. It is great for a fast bowler to see the stumps cartwheeling,” said Yadav (3/12) after the end of day’s play.
Ashwin (3/44) then had Carey and Lyon while Yadav bowled Todd Murphy (0).
India had managed to restrict the lead to 88 but the batting floundered once again against Lyon, who became only the third non-Indian spinner to claim 50 career Test wickets on Indian soil. Derek Underwood and Richie Benaud, cricketers of a different era, are the other two.
Shubman Gill (5) was beaten and bowled as he stepped out to Lyon, skipper Rohit Sharma (12) was out leg-before after being pinned to the crease by Lyon as India were reduced to 32/2.
Virat Kohli (13) tried break out of the shell but missed the ball while trying to plonk a Matthew Kuhnemann-ball to mid-wicket fence and was out leg-before. At the stroke of tea, Ravindra Jadeja was out lbw to Lyon.
India were still 10 runs behind and had six wickets.
Batsman Shreyas Iyer entered the field and decided to not grit it out but go on the attack.
In his 27-ball stay, he hit two sixes and three fours, to score 26 before an uppish drive through the mid-wicket off Starc was picked by an alert Usman Khawaja out of thin air.
That ended a 35-run partnership that had the potential to take India to a comfortable position.
Wicketkeeper-batsman KS Bharat then missed the line and was bowled off a ball that didn’t turn while Ashwin (16), who looked good and helped Pujara in taking the lead to 50 was the seventh man dismissed, leg-before.
Pujara (59 off 142) still had Axar Patel (15 not out), who is the only Indian to have put a price on his wicket across both innings. The view was that if India could somehow take their lead to around 120, they can hope of a win.
The two added another 15 before Smith’s spectacular catch happened. It wasn’t a freak dismissal off a great catch but a well-thought out one as Lyon described after the day’s play.
The 35-year-old removed the slip and brought the man to the leg-side.
Many of Pujara’s shots that may have earned him a single went straight to short fine leg. And when he tried to work one fine, it went too fine and was plucked by Smith.
“With due respect to others in the dressing room, I think it was only Smith who could have pulled off that catch at leg-slip. He may have dropped a few catches recently but he is brilliant there,” said Lyon.
That wicket dashed India’s hopes of taking the lead beyond 100.
Both Yadav and Mohammad Siraj, being tail-enders, were dismissed trying to hit the ball out — Yadav caught at the boundary and Siraj leg-before.