WTC final: Australia extend lead to 296 amidst India’s fightback
SUMMARY: Australia 469 all out from 121.3 overs (Travis Head 163, Steve Smith 121, Alex Carey 48, David Warner 43; Mohammed Siraj 4-108, Shardul Thakur 2-83, Mohammed Shami 2-122) and 123-4 from 44 overs (Marnus Labuschagne 41*, Steve Smith 34; Ravindra Jadeja 2-25) vs India 296 all out from 69.4 overs (Ajinkya Rahane 89, Shardul Thakur 51, Ravindra Jadeja 48; Pat Cummins 3-83, Cameron Green 2-44, Scott Boland 2-59, Mitchell Starc 2-71)
India gave themselves a glimmer of hope with a stirring fightback against Australia on day three of the World Test Championship final at The Oval.
Australia were reduced to 123-4 in their second innings, a lead of 296 on a pitch that is becoming increasingly difficult to bat on.
That India are still just about in the contest is thanks to a seventh-wicket stand of 109 between Ajinkya Rahane and Shardul Thakur, made after KS Bharat was bowled by the second delivery of the day.
Rahane, lbw to a no-ball on Thursday, was also dropped on Friday as he compiled a classy 89. Australia twice dropped Thakur, who was also leg before off a Pat Cummins no-ball, as he scrapped to 51.
It eventually took a spectacular catch from Cameron Green to remove Rahane and India were bowled out for 296, a deficit of 173.
Australia then lost David Warner and Usman Khawaja to slip to 24-2, only for Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith to defy the bowling, pitch and raucous crowd with a partnership of 62.
Smith and Travis Head fell playing wild shots to the left-arm spin of Ravindra Jadeja, but Labuschagne stood firm on 41 not out, in the company of Green, unbeaten on seven.
And although the day belonged to India, Australia’s lead on this pitch is significant and they remain favourites to be crowned world champions.
India show fight on captivating day
This was a captivating day of Test cricket, a ferocious arm-wrestle that belied the gap between the two teams in terms of the score.
The intensity was added to by the unpredictable, vipers nest of a pitch, and the excitable noise that greeted even the most minor Indian success.
There were shades of England’s famous Headingley win of 2019 in the way Australia lost the plot during the Rahane-Thakur stand. Captain Cummins showed his frustration when he booted away the ball just before lunch.
India carried that momentum into their bowling. Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami were excellent with the new ball, all while Virat Kohli conducted the crowd from first slip.
They had an opening with Australia two down and the lead not beyond 200, only for the door to be shut by Labuschagne and Smith – a foreboding sight for England with the Ashes only a week away.
The late departures of Smith and Head were further reward for India’s endeavour but, realistically, probably came too late to prevent a second successive World Test Championship final defeat.
Rahane and Thakur take fight to Australians
After India had added only one to their overnight 151-5, Scott Boland produced a nip-backer to splatter the stumps of Bharat and give the impression that Australia would hurry through the lower order.
But through bravery, luck and derring-do, Rahane and Thakur launched a thrilling fightback that rattled the Australians.
Between them, they were hit four times. Thakur was dropped by Khawaja on nought and Green on eight, while Rahane was missed by first slip Warner on 72 from a chance that wicketkeeper Alex Carey should have attempted.
Like Rahane on Thursday, Thakur was given lbw only for replays to show Cummins over-stepped.
Amid the chaos, Rahane played graceful cover drives and pulled Cummins for six. Thakur favoured the cut in his third half-century in as many Test innings on this ground. Runs came at five an over.
It took a moment of athletic brilliance from Green to find the breakthrough. As Rahane pushed at Cummins, gully fielder Green flung his hulking frame to the right and grabbed the ball one-handed above his head.
From there, India lost their last four wickets for 35 runs, but the deficit was much smaller than it might have been from previous positions of 71-4 and 152-6.
Labuschagne halts India charge
It will not be lost on England that Warner and Khawaja, openers with a history of struggling in this country, both edged behind in loose fashion.
Labuschagne was trying to sleep at the time the Warner wicket fell, but had to be wide awake in a pulsating battle with Siraj when he was twice struck on the hand by deliveries that reared sharply.
Batting was devilishly difficult until the arrival of Smith, who clipped his first ball for three and hooked his second for four. Rotating the strike with intelligent running, Smith and Labuschagne took the sting from the situation and quietened the crowd.
The apparent passing of the the storm made Smith’s wild hack at Jadeja all the more bewildering. Running down the pitch, Smith lost his shape and skied to point to depart for 34.
The skittish Head was exposed to a predictable barrage of short balls and Labuschagne continually had to guard against the uneven bounce, particularly when the ball was delivered from the Pavilion End.
Head was dropped over the rope on the leg-side boundary by Umesh Yadav, only to slap back to Jadeja two balls later, meaning Green had to join Labuschagne’s watchful evening vigil. (BBC Sport)