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If not a red letter day for , it was at least a red leather day.
Pat Cummins on his return to Test cricket took four wickets, and is not done yet. Three were with well-aimed feather-ruffling short-pitched balls. Who does that in India? Not Curtly Ambrose, for instance; he didn’t even bother to go there. Cummins is the rare sort of cricketer who immediately changes the mood of a match when he becomes involved.
Meantime in Brisbane, James Pattinson took 5/7 to destroy Queensland. Selectors might even have preferred Pattinson to Cummins to proxy for Mitch Starc in India, except that he asked to be allowed to get some bowling under his belt for Victoria. In four matches, he has taken 20 wickets at 16. Suddenly, next summer’s Ashes can’t come too soon.
Cummins’s prize wicket was Virat Kohli, who was expertly taken at second slip by n captain Steve Smith. The story was in the shot, an assertive, alpha male drive, the sort of shot Smith played only once in his eight-hour opus and Cheteshwar Pujara played only once in his seven-hour and still incomplete reply, but Kohli tried to play after just a few minutes at the crease.
Put this down to the victory of sticks and stones over words. All the temper in this series has catalysed around Kohli, and might have again on Saturday when he made a show of walking onto the balcony to applaud after Smith had exhausted ‘s ration of DRS referrals. It was gamesmanship, but it had to be backed up with game. Kohli couldn’t.
The fact is that Smith in India is batting like an Indian – it is a rare batsmen indeed who can habituate himself in this way – but Kohli is batting like an n, which works best in . The fact is that Smith is winning the mind games.
That was the battle. The war is another thing. If the third quarter in AFL is the premiership quarter, and the third day in golf is moving day, the third day of the third Test might have become the axis of this absorbing series, and yet still it is impossible to say who has the advantage. Parity is itself to ‘s immense credit, since they were unfancied to begin and since have lost two players, including the spearhead of their attack. They have been the most intrepid tourists.
The pitch is holding up, but if and when it goes, it will be tough going for ‘s phalanx of left-handers. In what other game than cricket do incidentals count so crucially? The seamers in this match are all right-armers, and India’s principal batsmen are all right-handers, which means the developing rough is less likely to inconvenience them. But let us not catastrophise yet.
Saturday was as much about what each team was able to deny the other as gain for itself, classic Test match business. India denied more than five wickets, which leaves it with a few to to work with on Sunday. But starved India of runs, keeping them to just 240 for the day. Though the figures do not reflect it, this was an all-of-team effort. dislikes to play with only four frontline bowlers, but they were so resolute and unflagging this day that Smith was able to deploy Cummins in short, penetrating bursts. Josh Hazlewood and the spinners created perceived pressure, Cummins real.
The one defence they could not breach they Pujura’s. He was Tweedlee to Smith’s Tweedledum, Yang to Smith’s Yin. By sessions, he made 30, 69 and in the last, when India needed a man to hold the bridge, merely 21. He was as stoic as the Gandhi impersonator in the crowd who neither twitched nor blinked as the television camera trained on him for many minutes. He was as stoic as Smith.
His discipline reminded me of a cricket photographer I once knew, a heavy drinker in a time of commonplace on-the-job drinking, who would not allow himself even a glass of water when on duty in case it meant a trip to the loo and a moment missed. On Sunday morning as on Saturday morning, Pujara’s wicket stands between and a lead.
‘s thoroughgoing preparation for this series is paying off. This day began ominously, when Murali Vijay blasted Steve O’Keefe for six as effortlessly as if hitting off a tee. But the ns did not fall back, and there would be no further boundary for an hour-and-a-half. allowed India only one burst of scoring for the day, predictably when taking the new ball, but it was off-set by the wickets of Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. This all-round escalation is cricket business as usual.
In the last session, when the ns might have sagged, they rallied, keeping India to 57 and taking two more wickets. At stumps, half a dozen made to shake Pujara’s hand. As promised the match, hostilities were channelled strictly and exclusively into the cricket now, and it is far from over yet.