Kohli and Pujara forge strong position for India

Cricket


India 250 and 151 for 3 (Rahul 44, Pujara 40*) lead Australia 235 (Head 72) by 166 runs

The scoreline and history was firmly against Australia at the end of the third day in Adelaide with India having forged a lead of 166. In a compelling final session, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, who was continuing a personal tour de force, put together a stand of 71 and despite Kohli’s late dismissal to Nathan Lyon India remained in a position to bat the home side out of the match.

They may be close to that already even though Australia were boosted by Lyon who ended a day of frustration with the biggest of scalps when Kohli gloved to short leg. Chasing statistics are not always the best way to judge a fourth-innings scenario – overall totals can offer a better view of what’s possible – but Australia have chased over 200 to win in Adelaide once, and that was in 1902. R Ashwin posed problems for them in the first innings and will be a major threat again, whenever his time comes – Kohli is unlikely to have thoughts of bowling before tea tomorrow.

The first innings were almost level after a truncated morning session, Australia’s last three wickets adding 44 to the overnight total, leaving one of those third-innings scenarios where the game can shift quickly if the batting side is not careful. The role of India’s openers, KL Rahul and M Vijay, was therefore vital even if both would end up being dismissed in familiar style. Unlike the first innings, though, they did not expose the middle order to the new ball: it was the 19th over before Pujara walked in and the 25th when Kohli emerged.

India’s main pair – their leader and the first-innings century-maker – resumed after tea for a session that had the feeling of being match-defining. There was little fluency in the batting, but lessons had been learnt from the first innings: batting time was the first port of call. Australia strained every sinew to find the breakthrough, Josh Hazlewood challenging the outside edge with his line, Pat Cummins testing techniques with shorter deliveries – one to Kohli was fended into a vacant short leg area – and Lyon finding considerable help from the rough.

Lyon thought he had removed Pujara twice – on 8 and 17 – only for DRS to overturn Nigel Llong’s out decisions. The first came when he was given caught behind and the second when lbw, adjudged playing no shot when padding Lyon away as he did multiple times, but the bounce was taking the ball just over the stumps.

Lyon became a little frustrated during his 18-over spell before being replaced by Travis Head, with India latching on to loose deliveries from the part-time offspinner whose stint was terminated after just two overs. Whereas India’s early collapse in the first innings meant they only belatedly stretched the stamina of the Australia attack, this time the top order was firmly intact as workloads increased. Australia have one session to keep themselves in the match.

The individual scores of Vijay (18) and Rahul (44), plus their manner of dismissals playing expansive drives, will leave India followers, and perhaps the coaching staff, exasperated but taken in the context of the match their contributions could yet prove a key passage of play. When play resumed after lunch, the break having been taken early due to further rain, conditions felt good for pace bowling. Instead of taking the attack to Australia straightaway, as they tried in the first innings, they gave the opening exchanges to Mitchell Starc and Hazlewood as the opening eight overs brought just runs, four of them leg byes.

Then Rahul flicked a switch heralding 54 runs off the next 10 overs, a rare period of free-flowing batting in a game where the run-rates have been below three. It was a significant momentum-grab from India, including a cover-driven six over cover against Cummins by Rahul, although he was given a life on 32 when Aaron Finch spilled a tough chance at leg slip off Lyon.

Vijay, who couldn’t break free in the same way, edged to slip driving at Starc then six overs later Rahul had a wild mow at Hazlewood and Kohli was welcomed to the crease by some significant booing. He would dearly have wanted to walk off unbeaten at the close, able to define the innings himself tomorrow, but his side remain strongly placed for something very significant.



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