India v Australia, 3rd Test, Ranchi, 4th day March 19, 2017

India break down another big total

For the third time this home season, the team took the lead after its opposition put up 400 batting first but the Ranchi effort was special
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Chappell: Pujara didn't look like tiring

Nathan Lyon had already bowled 29 overs in India's innings when he came on to bowl his first over of day four. His first ball was just a touch short, and Wriddhiman Saha went on the back foot and punched him for a couple between cover and mid-off. Three balls later, slightly short again, Saha whisked him away through midwicket for a single.

Lyon wasn't bowling long-hops - he wasn't being pulled or cut - but his length was marginally off, just short enough for the batsman to step back towards leg stump, wait, and push gently into the covers, or go back and across and work him to deep backward square leg. That sort of thing. He bowled nine overs in his first spell on Sunday, conceded 29 runs, had one lbw shout upheld and then turned down following a successful review from Cheteshwar Pujara. This wasn't Lyon's greatest spell, but it wasn't a particularly poor one by anyone's standards.

It was also, perhaps, the least testing spell Pujara and Saha had faced since they came together on the third evening in Ranchi. When Lyon was brought back, they had already put on 65 in 28.2 overs - 28.2 overs of unrelenting Australian pressure.

Australia began bowling to India in the middle session of the second day. India declared in the last session of the fourth day, after batting out 210 overs. They ground Australia down, drained them of energy and spark and ideas, and at various points left them wondering when their next wicket would come. But they never had it easy.

Barring the second session of day three and the last session of day four, when India were in the lead and Ravindra Jadeja decided to have some fun, there was almost no let-up in Australia's intensity. Lyon, probably the worst of the four specialist bowlers, finished with 1 for 163 in 46 overs. The other three combined for 160 overs, taking eight wickets and conceding 2.55 runs per over.

It was the third time in their 2016-17 home season that India had scored 600-plus in reply to their opposition batting first and scoring more than 400. In Mumbai, England made 400 and India 631. In Chennai, it was 477 and 759. This was the same sort of thing, but it was also entirely different. This was the hardest they had been made to work.

Nathan Lyon didn't have much success against the Indians in Ranchi © Associated Press

Chennai was possibly the flattest of the three pitches, and India were playing a team that was already 3-0 down and out of the series. England's bowling figures in that match paint a fairly obvious picture of how they had been dominated - three bowlers conceded more than four an over while sending down at least 20 overs - while two Indian batsmen made big hundreds at 60-plus strike rates. Over the course of 190.4 overs, India scored at nearly four an over.

Things were slightly different in Mumbai. England were still in the series at that point, and like Australia in Ranchi, seemed in with a chance of taking a fairly substantial lead at one point. India were six down and behind by 93, then seven down and 36 adrift. But a top-order double-centurion - Virat Kohli - combined with a lower-order centurion - Jayant Yadav - to lift India into a dominant position. The same thing played out against Australia. Only the batsmen were different.

Overall, India scored their runs at 3.45 per over at the Wankhede. Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, who between them bowled nearly 60% of England's total overs - finished with combined figures of 6 for 366 with a combined economy rate of 3.37. It doesn't look terrible but that was largely down to the fields England set, with sweepers on both square boundaries almost all the way through.

Those fielders at deep point and deep square leg were absolute musts: according to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data from the match, India's batsmen cut Rashid and Moeen 29 times and pulled them 13 times. That's a cut or a pull every two-and-a-half overs.

In Ranchi, Lyon and Steve O'Keefe bowled 123 overs, and were cut 15 times and pulled four times. That's a cut or pull every six-and-a-half overs. It was this control of length that allowed Australia to keep their fields in and stem the flow of singles. It was this control of length that allowed O'Keefe to bowl maiden after maiden from left-arm over to Pujara when he was already past the century mark.

Wriddhiman Saha battled his way through some good bowling to make his third Test century © Associated Press

A spinner who turns the ball away from the batsman cannot afford to bowl short with a leg-side dominant field, even while pitching the ball a long way outside leg stump. Rashid may have turned the ball further than O'Keefe did had he been in Ranchi, attacking the rough outside Pujara's leg stump, but he might also have offered a steady diet of slaps and punches either side of deep point.

For long periods of time, O'Keefe's defensive line kept Pujara, India's immovable object, away from Pat Cummins, Australia's irresistible force. Cummins harried India with a Swiss-army-knife-full of cutting-edge tools - pace, bounce, cutters, reverse-swing - and took four wickets while remaining accurate enough to concede less than three an over. England's pace attack in Mumbai had no one remotely as penetrative.

None of them even managed to do the job Josh Hazlewood did. He bowled 44 overs, took one wicket, and finished with an economy rate of 2.34. James Anderson, England's most-used fast bowler in Mumbai, sent down only 20 overs, and Jake Ball, who was the only one of their four quicks to concede less than three an over, bowled only 18. All this meant India were never under the sort of ceaseless pressure that they were to experience in Ranchi.

In Mumbai, Kohli and Jayant added 241 in 58.4 overs. In Ranchi, Pujara and Saha added 199 in 77.4 overs. Both partnerships were exactly what India needed in their respective circumstances. But where Mumbai was the familiar tale of an Indian team overwhelming what was clearly, in those conditions, a lesser opponent, Ranchi was something new. The series was 1-1, Australia's attack had no genuine weak link, and they made India work for every run.

Having done all that hard work, India will start day five as overwhelming favourites to go 2-1 up. Should they win as expected, their batting performance is likely to be hailed as one of their finest in recent years. That should remain the case even if they somehow fail to do so.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • AussieNSW on March 22, 2017, 20:29 GMT

    Breaking down a big total on a flat batting deck is one thing. How you go about it is another. The reason Australia have so much success is getting big totals and getting them quickly. A crawling double ton eating up 500+ deliveries well into day 4 just isn't go to win you many matches. Again India have again over estimated their ability to bring it home rather than underestimating Australia. If the latter was indeed the case then Kohli and his boys are very slow learners.

  • jimmyvida on March 22, 2017, 13:21 GMT

    Time to drop Pujara again?

  • FrostD on March 22, 2017, 12:21 GMT

    @MOHAMMAD ZAMIN: "I'm not sure what you mean by Pujara has played a Younis Khan". Pujara has very much played his own personal inning. And it's surprising that you didn't say, Pujara played a Dravid or Laxman. Let's not compare players.

  • Ram on March 21, 2017, 14:28 GMT

    Ishant should be shown the way. He is an embarrassment in two ways. One is his bowling. The other is his behavior. India slowly are taking it a little too far with Kohli picking up absolutely unnecessary fight and giving statements that doesn't represent India. Dravid, Sachin and group had more success with their approach to the game. They were aggressive in their cricket not in their conduct. Sourav was, but that was acceptable in a way! Kohli despite being a superb batsman should calm down and be more respectful IMO

  • apoclypoto on March 21, 2017, 5:08 GMT

    it is necessary try to win the match not necessary break records,

  • Incognito_Brown on March 20, 2017, 8:51 GMT

    See, this is exactly what I'm talking about - If one of Ashwin or Jadeja get stuck for wickets then it becomes difficult for India. Yadav at times picks up crucial wickets to get India past the sticking point but they really really need an effective fourth or even fifth bowler. ISHANT is definitely the weak link - Always has been. India REALLY need to look hard at the fourth bowling option in a sense of Shami. Ishant seems to have got back in as a stop-gap measure but he simply not good enough!!!

  • mahendra1 on March 20, 2017, 8:47 GMT

    With the C Pujara scoring 200 runs of 525 balls, then there is very less overs left to make all out to Australians, too slow and his inning is important only to save the matches but will not help for winning case.

  • cricfan2378169230 on March 20, 2017, 7:15 GMT

    Kohli is really letting the game away. It is India's game till lunch day 5. But really Pace is not the key.. get both the spinners together.. Kohli don't follow Smith

  • cricfan2378169230 on March 20, 2017, 7:12 GMT

    Ashwin really not getting anything from this wicket. Better continue with Jaddu from one end and others build a partnership around him

  • ELECTRIC_LOCO_WAP4_IS_DELUDED on March 20, 2017, 6:25 GMT

    CheeseVanTonder is also Tommytuckersaffa and as the name suggests, he is South African.

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