India bowlers made some amends to their performance on the first day, allowing Australia to add only 142 for the remaining seven wickets and restricting them to 469 on the second day of the World Test Championship final. But it was the batting that came a cropper against a pace attack that looked complete and variable enough to leave Indians limping on 151/5 at stumps.
The pitch at The Oval in London is known to play well for batsmen on the second and third days but so iffy was India batsmen’s approach against a perfectly planned Australian attack that the competition seemed like a complete mismatch.
Cheteshwar Pujara (14), who has earned compliments for his ability to judge his off-stump on flat Australian pitches, grinding Australia bowlers in their backyard to help India win two series in a row, left his off-stump exposed to a Cameron Green ball that jagged back in. Beating his defences looked impossible for even a frontline pacer like Pat Cummins at home but in England, where the ball moved consistently, fifth bowler Green managed to breach them with ease.
Opener Shubman Gill (13 runs) had been dismissed earlier in an exactly similar fashion, shouldering arms to one from Scott Boland that came back in, after skipper and other opener Rohit Sharma was dismissed leg-before by Cummins.
After a promising start that realised 30 runs without any loss of wicket in six overs, India had been reduced to 50/3 in the 13th over with the top three gone.
The batsmen had no counter to the movement the Aussies were getting on the surface.
Former skipper Virat Kohli and his ex-deputy Ajinkya Rahane committed themselves to playing on the front foot to ensure that what befell Pujara and Gill doesn’t befall them.
And they seemed to be getting a hang of the bowling.
But Australia skipper Cummins, perhaps reading their minds, brought back the tall Mitchell Starc, who bowled a short ball that caught Kohli (14) on the front foot, and the shell-shocked batsman could only lob simple a catch to the slip cordon.
Rahane and Kohli had added 21 to take India to 71.
Ravindra Jadeja walked in and tried some adventurous shots but was lucky that some of his mistimed aerial shots fell in vacant areas of the field. He soon got into his groove, and although he was beaten on multiple occasions, he managed to build a half-century partnership Rahane.
But just as he was beginning to settle and looking to take India to stumps without any further loss of wickets, Australia introduced off-spinner Nathan Lyon. The veteran got Jadeja in his second over, the batsman poking at what he thought would be within his reach. But the ball spun away, took an edge of the bat, and was taken by Steve Smith in the slips.
Smith (121 runs) had earlier completed his 31st Test ton before playing on to his stumps an innocuous delivery from Shardul Thakur. He followed Travis Head (163, dismissed by Mohammad Siraj) and Cameron Green (6, dismissed by Mohammad Shami) to the pavilion in the first session.
A run-out by agile substitute fielder Axar Patel sent Starc back to leave Australia seven down for 402.
But then wicketkeeper Alex Carey (48) and Pat Cummins added 51 for the eighth wicket, most of it post-lunch.
For India, Siraj took 4/108, Shami 2/122, Thakur 2/83 while Jadeja returned with 1/56.