England put their best foot forward at the start of the Ashes and for a good part of the first three days, competed with Australia on even terms. Perhaps even fared better than the hosts.
It wasn’t a typical Gabba wicket and England capitalised on it, first pushing past 300 when hardly anyone gave them a chance against the pace of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, and then cashing in with the ball when the wicket quickened up on the second day.
Early on the third day of the Test, Australia were reduced to 209-7 and nearly 100 runs behind the visitors. Steve Smith was batting with utmost confidence but he obviously needed help from the other end. He got that from the doughty Cummins, who blasted a career-best 42 at No9.
When England look back at the opening Test, the focus will understandably be on Smith’s ton, low scores from Alastair Cook and lack of bite in Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali’s bowling for large parts of the Test. But the shoe could have been on the other foot on Day Three if England had somehow found a way past Cummins, if not Smith.
Definitely looked a different game when the wicket quickened up. Hope for more fast & bouncy wickets 🙏🏼 https://t.co/j7cOsd4W5c— Mitchell Johnson (@MitchJohnson398) November 26, 2017
Take Cummin’s 42 out of the equation and there is every chance England would have started the second innings at least 50 ahead, if not more, and then it would have been a different contest.
One solid partnership for England and shoulders would have started to drop in the Aussie camp.
Instead, Australia got the best possible boost when staring down the barrel – an unbeaten century by their captain. It rallied the troops and once they squeezed out two wickets for next to nothing, England were behind the eight ball.
We have been here before. The last Ashes Down Under was all about Mitchell Johnson, his seering pace and that magnificent moustache.
But it was wicketkeeper Brad Haddin who bailed the team out with the bat in the first innings of the first four Tests. His 94 in the first Test helped Australia reach 295 while a century in the second helped fellow centurion Michael Clarke lay the foundation for a mammoth 570.
In the third Test, it was Haddin’s fifty again that allowed Australia – powered by a Steve Smith century – breach the 350-run mark while in the fourth, his 65 saved the day after the hosts were 122-6 chasing England’s 255 in the first essay.
In each instance, Haddin’s rearguard innings stopped the Aussie innings from imploding, kept them in the game and allowed Johnson and Co to go all out without worrying about any deficit.
Australia rely heavily on Smith and David Warner for their runs, much like England do on Joe Root and Alastair Cook and the lower order of Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow. The Aussies were fairly efficient in dismantling England’s lower order in both innings and if England can do that in the remaining matches, they will be able to capitalise on game-changing situations like the one they faced in the first Test.
Australia too should be smart enough to realise they got out of jail in the first innings at the Gabba. Left-arm pace ace Starc struggled with the landing area in the second innings and was seen clutching his ankle. If he somehow doesn’t play in any of the remaining Tests, that would level the playing field considerably.
In the meantime, the lower order of both sides will have major roles to play. Australia did that splendidly in 2013-14 and swept the series. If they continue to do that this time, results could be similar.
India took complete control of the second Test against Sri Lanka with captain Virat Kohli smashing his fifth double century in Tests and Rohit Sharma also joining the run fest with an unbeaten century. India amassed 610-6 to put the Test beyond the Sri Lankans.
India will most likely call the shots over the next two days.
Here, we look at two good and two bad efforts during the third day’s play in Nagpur.
Kohli’s strike rate
Captain Kohli’s double century was as effortless as it was high on strokeplay. In a a match where the rest of the batsmen took their time to score runs, Kohli batted freely scoring 213 off 267 balls at a strike rate of a shade under 80. It made up for the scoring rates of Murali Vijay (128 off 221) and the exceptionally slow Cheteshwar Pujara (143 off 362), and allowed India to have a go at Sri Lanka late in the day.
Rohit stakes his claim
Ajinkya Rahane got out for his third straight single digit score in the ongoing series, vacating the scene for his Mumbai team-mate Rohit Sharma to step up and score a century. No doubt the conditions and opposition made it that much easier but a hundred is a hundred and Sharma got there. Sharma is not a regular Test batsman but he does have four fifty plus scores in his last five innings. The selectors are looking at various options for the upcoming tour of South Africa and Sharma has done his chances no harm at all.
Perera’s forgettable outing
Off-spinner Dilruwan Perera was a key performer during Sri Lanka’s stunning series win against Pakistan in the UAE. He took four wickets in the first Test and eight in the second. But in Nagpur, he looked far from a match-winner. While veteran left-armer Rangana Herath kept the scoring down by giving away just 81 runs from 39 overs, Perera undid all that hard work by bleeding 202 from 45. What’s worse, he had dropped centurion Murali Vijay when the batsman was on 61.
Rahane’s home woes
Ajinkya Rahane is a bit of an enigma. A technical maestro, Rahane’s home record pales in comparison to his away tally. The Mumbai batsman averages just 35 from 18 home games but 53 in 24 away matches. It makes it that much more difficult to pick him first up, at least in home Tests. His scores of 4, 0 and 2 in this series allowed the focus to drift to Rohit and the team management will be forced to think that much harder about the likely playing XI for the South Africa Tests.