Cummins' fightback was the moment when first Ashes Test slipped away from England

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Cummins was brilliant with the bat and ball.

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.

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.

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Captain Kohli's blistering double century, Perera's shocking figures and other talking points

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India are in the driver's seat in the Nagpur Test.

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.

THE GOOD

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.

Virat Kohli smashed his fifth double century.

Virat Kohli smashed his fifth double century.

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.

Rohit Sharma (l) made the most of his opportunity.

Rohit Sharma (l) made the most of his opportunity.

THE BAD

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.

Perera went for more than 200 runs in second Test.

Perera went for more than 200 runs in second Test.

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.

Ajinkya Rahane doesn't have a good record at home.

Ajinkya Rahane doesn’t have a good record at home.

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Verdict on Shikhar Dhawan, Ravi Ashwin and Umesh Yadav for India's tour of South Africa

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Bhuvneshwar Kumar has become one of the best Test bowlers in the world.

India came within three wickets of a remarkable victory in the first Test at Kolkata. Sri Lanka fought well and were in the game as late as the second session on the final day at Eden Gardens. The hosts were ahead by just 159 runs when the seventh wicket fell and with nearly 50 overs of play left. But a superlative century by captain Virat Kohli put the target beyond the Sri Lankans and allowed India to truly dominate in the final session before bad light denied them an opportunity to go for victory.

While there are a lot of positives for the Indians going into the second Test in Nagpur, the bigger narrative here is the buildup to the New Year’s Test in South Africa. India, obviously, want to win the ongoing Test series but they also want to find the right line-up that can take on the Proteas. Which is why the Indians opted for a green-top in Kolkata, a move that almost backfired as they were shot out for 172 in the first innings.
The Indian team management will be looking at three key positions keeping the South African series in mind and after the first Test in Kolkata, should have a clearer idea about at least two.
The opening combination looks like a closed case with KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan adding 166 in the second innings. The left-right combination will be critical in South Africa as Dhawan is likely to be the only left-handed batsman in the entire team. That means Murali Vijay will have to wait for one of the two incumbents to fail spectacularly.
India’s spinners were mere spectators at Eden Gardens. Ravi Ashwin bowled eight overs in the first innings while Ravindra Jadeja bowled one in both innings. The South Africans will have at least two left-handed batsmen – Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock – in the top order and Ashwin looks more capable of containing batsmen as he has better variations than Jadeja. Plus he is a more reliable batsman.
As far as the pace attack is concerned, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami select themselves for the South Africa tour unless there are any fitness issues. The two were outstanding in Kolkata, especially in the second innings where they bowled with venom and almost pulled off victory in one session.
However, Umesh Yadav looked down on pace and bite. If he doesn’t find another gear or two then veteran quick Ishant Sharma or even limited overs specialist Jasprit Bumrah will most likely take his place. Both Sharma and Bumrah are quick and get a lot more bounce out of the wicket than Yadav and the team management will surely have a word with him about it.
Many expected the Indians to breeze through the series but Sri Lanka proved more than a handful. Kohli’s team will be even more focused as they simply have to get their gameplan spot on. Angelo Mathews and Suranga Lakmal proved tough to handle. Just imagine what Hashim Amla, de Kock and Kagiso Rabada will be like.

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