Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne – Team India’s nemesis in the first innings of the third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground – were at it again as they held fort and ended a memorable day for the Australian side. After the visiting team lost six wickets in the second session to be all out for 244 (giving Australia a 94-run lead), Smith and Labuschagne got together after the fall of two quick wickets, piling on 68 runs to take the lead to 197. The Aussies ended the day at 103 for 2, and look in control of a dominating win here.
It was Mohammad Siraj who gave India the first breakthrough as he sent back debutant and first innings half centurion Will Pucovski, before David Warner was struck plumb in front by off-spinner Ravi Ashwin. The Australians lost their openers within the first ten overs of the second innings, but the Indians did not have much to rejoice thereafter as the solid duo of Smith and Labuschagne grinded it out yet again. They hit nine fours in their unbeaten stand to make Indians toil hard on the field.
The Indians began the day on the front foot after India had managed to dismiss the Australians on Day 2 for 338, before Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill gave the team a solid opening stand. The overnight batters Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, however, were up against some excellent bowling by the pacers on the morning of Day 3. The fast bowlers were aggressive, mixed the short balls well with good length deliveries and dried up the runs for the Indians. Pujara scored 16 in 100 balls, while Rahane too was unable to get going, and eventually fell for 22 off the bowling of Pat Cummins.
The run rate fell to less than two runs an over, as Nathan Lyon further tightened the screws. Hanuma Vihari and Pujara struggled to get runs, with the latter getting his first four after 101 balls. He soon found momentum as he started using his feet against Lyon, but the needless run out of Vihari was the turning point from which the Indians could never recover.
The new ball, which was taken immediately after it was made available, saw the Australian bowl full throttle as Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood mixed up the lengths and lines to pose a series of questions. Cummins struck Rishabh Pant on the left elbow soon after, following which the wicket keeper lost all the fluency that he had displayed in the first half of his innings. He was taken for scans, which further compounded India’s injury woes. Pujara, at the other end, got his 50 in 174 balls – his slowest in the longer format of the game.
Pant and Pujara shared a crucial 50-run stand, before Hazlewood entered the attack and got the former to outside edge oen to David Warner at slip. Pujara was troubled by the splendid lines by Cummins and eventually fell to him for the fourth time in the series. Pujara has managed to score just 19 runs against the Aussie fast bowler this series, facing 129 balls, with 119 dot balls.
As many as three run outs (Ravi Ashwin, Hanuma Vihari and Jasprit Bumrah) further helped the Australians, who were tiring out as the pitch started slowing down as the day progressed. Unlike the Indians, the Australians were quick and sharp on the field, as the Indians slipped from 194 for 4 to 216 for 9. The visiting team were under threat of getting all out while conceding a lead of more than 100, but a fine stand between Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammad Siraj for the tenth wicket took the lead to less than 100.
The Indians, however, had another moment of panic as Jadeja, who was hit on the left thumb by a Mitchell Starc delivery while batting, was taken for scans, which stated that the all-rounder had suffered a fracture. Jadeja and Pant did not take the field in the Australian innings, which has further pushed India on the backfoot, not only for this game but for the upcoming Test match as well. With the Indians already facing a number of injury woes, they might not have the time to fly in a replacement, considering the strict quarantine rules in place.
Brief scores: Australia 338 & 103/2 (Marnus Labuschagne 47*, Steve Smith 29*; Mohammed Siraj 1-20, R Ashwin 1-28) lead India 244 (Shubman Gill 58, Cheteshwar Pujara 50, Rishabh Pant 36; Pat Cummins 4-29) by 197 runs.