Expect the unexpected. An extraordinary plot continues to unravel on day three at the GABBA. Halfway through the morning session India had Australia on the floor; a few overs into the afternoon session and India’s chances of salvaging a result from this match are on life support.
Befitting the captivating contest, the Test match was evenly poised at stumps on day two. India had posted 408 in its first innings and Australia had mustered 4/221 in reply.
Australia’s terrible first day started with the loss of the toss, consigning them to a hot day in the field. Much fuss was made about the heat; several Australian players succumbed to a range of ailments as the day wore on and India scored freely. Cramps, pulled muscles, heat stroke and general discomfort resulted in hourly drinks breaks interspersed with unscheduled periodic stoppages. So heavy was the workload of physios and drinks runners, a path was scorched across the turf between the pavilion area and the middle wicket.
Australia’s over rate suffered and so did the sanity of listeners in northern Australia, where club cricketers play out their entire seasons in 30-40 degree heat. Suffocating humidity is part of cricket in north Queensland. While commentators from Channel 9 and ABC Grandstand repeatedly made a point of the heat endured by cricket’s elite in Brisbane, no complaints were made by players, officials and spectators participating in the Under 15 Queensland Junior Cricket Intra-State Championships in Townsville, where the temperature has soared above 34 degrees every single day of the carnival.
Nonetheless, day one did actually feature some good cricket. Murali Vijay scored another fine century leading India to 4/311 at stumps in front of a poor GABBA crowd. Adding further fire to the debate about India’s refusal to use DRS, Cheteshwar Pujara was robbed when struck on the helmet and given out caught. That makes at least three clangers in this series alone for India.
With most of Australia’s bowlers down and out, cricket fans were left wondering who would be able to bowl for Australia on day two.
Australia’s medical men performed overnight wonders. The hosts restricted India by taking 6 wickets for 97 runs early on the second day. Josh Hazlewood took 5/68 on debut in a great performance. Australia began their dig fairly well, albeit somewhat uncharacteristically with Chris Rogers scoring quickly, and David Warner departing early. But India made some in-roads into Australia’s Michael Clarke-less batting order.
Day three was always going to be about how Steve Smith would handle the pressure of being the guy that needed to score the runs required to pull Australia from its current submissive position, 180+ runs behind.
With aplomb: Smith nailed another ton, scoring 133 off 191 balls, getting out in a Test match for the first time since Australia’s series loss to Pakistan in the UAE two months ago.
Day three started incredibly well for India. Sharma knocked over Mitch Marsh and the horribly out-of-form Brad Haddin was sent packing by Varun Aaron.
My personal view is that Brad Haddin will undoubtedly retire from Test cricket at the conclusion of this series. His form (highest score 22 from last 12 Test innings), his age (37) and the decision to elect Smith as Captain instead of vice-Haddin, all point toward an imminent exit for this great wicket-keeper.
Back at the GABBA, and after Haddin’s wicket, Australia were now six down and still 162 behind India. Enter Mitchell Johnson.
As soon as Johnson, who’d gone wicket-less in India’s innings, came to the crease, India made the apparent mistake of attempting to sledge the Queenslander. Umpire Marais Erasmus had to intervene at least twice as the exchanges became quite heated. Clearly India had the wrong man. Johnson responded with 88 runs from 93 balls, hitting 13 fours and a six in a 148 run partnership with Smith that completely turned the game on its head.
Australia’s tail wasn’t done there. Lyon, Starc and Hazlewood piled on another 110 runs and took Australia to 505 all-out in the first over after tea.
India should have bowled Australia out for well under 300 and instead, in utterly dispiriting circumstances, surrendered their ascendant position, keeled over and allowed Australia to assert outright dominance.
However, this game ain’t done yet. With a run rate of over 4 per over throughout this series, the remaining six and a bit sessions will deliver several surprises. All three results are still possible. India are now 1/53, trailing by 56 with about 19 overs remaining on day three.