India v Australia, 2nd Test, Bengaluru, 3rd day March 6, 2017

Australia's endless fight ends abruptly

Having bowled and batted with tremendous skill over the first two days in Bengaluru, Australia's discipline began to unravel on the third
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Mitchell Starc was the least impressive of all the bowlers in the second Test © Associated Press

Nathan Lyon bowled in the first innings of this match like a man who understood offspin on a spiritual level. From over the wicket, the ball would leave his hand, curve away, rip back, and get serious bounce. He did it ball after ball, like he was an animated GIF of offspinning perfection. Lyon, and Australia, were in complete control.

On the third morning, Australia weren't in complete control of the Test, but they were in front. The day couldn't have started much better for them as the Starc and Wade scrappy-and sloggy double act was approaching 50. If they could double that it was pretty much game over. 

Starc was in control of only a little more than half the deliveries he faced and he had ridden his luck: one catch should have been taken, and he had another overturned on review. When Starc decided to slog sweep R Ashwin, though, it wasn't just the end of his innings but Australia's too. 

The problem was that, even last evening, the pitch was showing signs of getting easier to bat on. The variable bounce seemed to be disappearing. So not only was Australia's collapse this morning - 4 for 37 - a complete turnaround from their day of endless fight yesterday, it also left some of their easier runs unscored. The lead stopped growing at 87, like that was a real bad-luck number for Australian cricket and not a misremembered conversation handed down over the years as fact. 

They had a lead, but not the game. 

Later Cheteshwar Pujara faced Lyon with a record that inspired little confidence, having fallen to the offspinner five times for an average of 29. And KL Rahul was at the other end, with a second-innings average of 12. Abhinav Mukund was already gone, and the newly nervous Virat Kohli was in next.

Pujara looked completely out of sorts. He edged one from Lyon into Matthew Wade's pad, he flicked one close to a diving midwicket, and he edged another to the left hand of Steven Smith at slip. Smith dropped it. Pujara was 4 and India were in the minus. He finished the day with 75 more runs. 

There were great moments too. Smith took a catch so good that you want to take it to your make-out spot and get cosy with it. Josh Hazlewood's spell in the middle of the day was the kind Glenn McGrath would produce in Asia, a bass-guitar beat down. And they had some luck with the Kohli lbw because had it been given not out, it would have been just as good a decision.

And then India had a bit of a moment when they promoted Ravindra Jadeja. He was either a tea-watchman, a leftie to break the string of right handers in the middle order, or they thought it would be hysterical to send him in and see what happened.

But Hazlewood couldn't bowl forever, though he did try, and Smith could only dive majestically at the ones he could reach. And after that, nothing really went right. 

Mitchell Starc has been the poorest fast bowler on this pitch. He hasn't maintained the pressure of Hazlewood, Ishant Sharma, or Umesh Yadav, and hasn't produced enough of his Hollywood leading-man balls either. The left-arm spinner Steve O'Keefe bowled okay, but without his beloved Pune pitch he's not looked as likely to break through, and despite him keeping the scoring low for someone to prosper at the other end, they did not. And Mitchell Marsh's Alfred Hitchcock bowling cameo was hardly worth it.

Then there is Lyon, who in the first innings bowled in such a cluster of awesomeness that analysts will be showing it to their grandkids one day. Of 134 balls, he over-pitched two and under-pitched two, according to Cricviz data. And the only time he went wide was to set up Ajinkya Rahane. 

In the second innings, Lyon bowled 162 balls and his line was wider. His worst balls were quite wide but even his stock balls weren't as straight. His tight cluster had become a pie dropped from a second-floor balcony.  In one innings he went from 97% of his balls on a good length, to 43%. 

There are many reasons for the difference. The savage bounce Lyon got in the first innings had become gentlemanly. When Pujara was struggling, Rahul faced 17 consecutive balls from the offspinner to give his partner a rest. As the Indians felt the pitch easing, they attacked more and did not let Lyon settle into a groove.

But Lyon didn't bowl as well either. He didn't look confident or happy. His action looked like his arm was coming over past the perpendicular at times. He pulled out of one ball and grabbed his back. And he even seemed to pop open the callous on his spinning finger.

And then there were the foot holes. Lyon must have spent most the day looking at them, rubbing them with his hand, and putting his foot in them to try and find the right place. By his last over he had to admit it wasn't working. He abandoned the crease that had given him eight wickets and ended up hoping India would make a mistake as he bowled around the wicket.

At this point it was clear: Lyon was no longer in control, and neither were Australia.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sharad on March 7, 2017, 19:45 GMT

    Pujara and Rahane added only 13 and 12 to their overnight scores. Exactly what I was saying yesterday. They just don't inspire confidence in the fans, only commentators for some reason.

  • Chris on March 7, 2017, 6:23 GMT

    Like Krishna_Cricketfan, I disagree with the tone of this article. Also a bit unfair to say O'Keefe was not looking as likely to break through. It sounded like Shane Warne wrote this article when in fact anyone who watched saw at least 2 deliveries every over of O'Keefe's was extremely close to a wicket. He was unplayable and Smith made the mistake of underbowling him.

  • Krishnaswami on March 7, 2017, 4:16 GMT

    I disagree with the tone and tenor of this article. If India can bat "so well", why not Australia? Their intent for the last 3 innings suggests they are well set. They bat on and on in a typical test match way. If wicket has eased out, so will it be for Australians as well.India is hardly 125 odd in front. If India can score, Australians can as well. Surely challenges are there for Australia, but is not something they have not seen in this tour itself.

  • John on March 7, 2017, 3:50 GMT

    Scrappy-Sloogy double act, Alfred Hitchcock bowling cameo, GIF of offspinning perfection, bass guitar beat down... Best of them "tea watchman" Thanks Jarrod. Keep the good work going.

  • Hamish on March 7, 2017, 2:09 GMT

    Weird how somebody might not bowl as well as when they took 8/50... Lyon has had a chance put down and Wade got hit in the legs by another edge. He's had a fair few pop up and not quite hit the fieldsman. India is too good a batting lineup to miss out all the time so it's hardly surprising that Australia will have to work harder this innings than they have before in the series. The questions are can they get early wickets and keep the lead down and how well will they handle the Indian bowling in the chase? The match could still go either way

  • Unmesh on March 7, 2017, 1:49 GMT

    Jarrod Kimber is one of my favorite writers..always a joy to read his articles. I was waiting for the moment when Indian batsmen finally arrive in this series. That moment has come I think..still fingers crossed.

  • Sam on March 7, 2017, 1:13 GMT

    Great stuff from Kimber so far this series. This is one of the best ones I've read from him. KL Rahul's innings was so important, I think. He looked so assured that he surely must have calmed the nerves of the others. I had my doubt about his temperament (no question about his skill) but he has been fantastic this match -- looked head-and-shoulders above everyone else. Hope rain doesn't ruin the match, otherwise we are in for another fascinating day of cricket.

  • caesar1022179 on March 7, 2017, 0:05 GMT

    Would have been nice if Australia added another 50 runs but that is the nature of the game. The pendulum appears to have swung the Indians direction. Australia can wrestle the match back by having a big first session on the 4th day. If India fails to get more than 220 runs ahead, then I would back the Aussies to make the required amount. Anything above 260, things begin to become precarious.

  • disco on March 6, 2017, 23:34 GMT

    At the moment I think you'd have to say India are on top, I'd like to say the first session on day four is where the match will be won or lost, but I think more surprises are in store for us. I think Australia are in for a nail biting chase.

  • Richard on March 6, 2017, 23:15 GMT

    India have found their ideal pitch it seems.

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