New Delhi: Intent was the word India skipper Virat Kohli has been talking about ever since the debacle in the first Test against Australia in Pune. And it was finally on display at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on the third day of the second Test between the two teams in Bengaluru on Monday.
On the backfoot after a spirited display by Steven Smith and Co. on the first two days of the match, Kohli and his boys fought back into the game on Monday as they ended the day with a handy lead of 126 runs on a wicket that will be a bowler’s delight on the last two days of the Test.
At stumps on the third day, India’s score reads 213/4 with Cheteshwar Pujara (79) and Ajinkya Rahane (40) at the crease. The hosts still have six wickets in hand with every run scored hereon worth its weight in gold.
In fact, he was on a hat-trick after dismissing Matthew Wade (40) and Nathan Lyon (0) off successive deliveries. But Josh Hazlewood played out the hat-trick ball before falling to Jadeja in his next over with the score on 276, a lead of 87 crucial runs on a bowler-friendly wicket.
Interestingly, it took Kohli till the ninth over of the morning session to finally introduce his most successful bowler on display in terms of wickets picked. Even though Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav impressed with their probing spells, it was Jadeja who finished with six wickets from 21.4 overs. In stark contrast, spin spearhead R Ashwin managed to pick just two wickets as he finished with figures of 2/84 from 49 overs.
Back to the India’s spirited batting display in the second innings — the first in the series so far — it all started at the top as India went into the lunch break without losing a wicket and with 38 runs on the board from 10 overs. While Rahul looked to be carrying on from where he had left in the first innings, even Abhinav Mukund looked to apply himself.
But the joy was shortlived as Josh Hazlewood dismissed Mukund in the first over after lunch. The ball moved in considerably after hitting the pitch to thud into the stumps after ricocheting off the pads. Mukund (16) walked back with India still trailing by 48 runs.
In walked Pujara to join a free-flowing Rahul. What followed next was a study in contrast. If Rahul looked elegant as he hit the classy drives and flicks, Pujara looked to be batting on a minefield as he managed to read neither the spinners nor the pacers. But more importantly, he stuck in and refused to throw his wicket away. It might have been one of his ugliest innings’ in recent times, but it was mighty effective.
Rahul meanwhile brought up his second fifty of the match as he looked in complete control. He played both Lyon and Steve O’Keefe like he was batting at the nets. But it was against the run of play that O’Keefe dismissed Rahul (51) as Smith picked a blinder at first slip.
With the ball pitched wide, Rahul looked to go for an expansive drive, only to edge it to Smith who flew to his right to pluck the ball out of thin air. A dejected Rahul walked back as India’s score read 84/2, still trailing by 3.
Skipper Kohli started off from where Rahul had left and he looked to keep the pressure on the bowlers. Even though he hasn’t had the best of series, he tried to keep rotating the strike and build the pressure. Along with Pujara, Kohli looked to build a partnership. But that is when Kohli’s nemesis, the DRS, struck again.
Hazlewood's in-cutter thudded into Kohli's pads, but there was a hint of a second sound which suggested the Indian captain might have nicked it. But the big question was whether the ball hit the pad first or was it an inside edge onto the pad? On-field umpire Nigel Llong immediately gave Kohli out and the India skipper challenged the call, bring the DRS into the equation.
But after looking at the replays from all possible available angles, the third umpire couldn't find a 'conclusive evidence that the ball hit the bat first' and went with the on-field umpire's call.
A furious Kohli walked back to the dressing room and was seen shaking his head even after next man Ravindra Jadeja had taken guard. India’s score read 112/3 with a lead of just 25 runs. Jadeja failed to recreate the magic he had shown with the ball as Hazlewood got one to move in sharply and disturb the timber. Jadeja (2) walked back as Rahane joined Pujara with five balls left before the tea break.
Coming back after tea with India’s score on 122/4, the match could have gone either ways. But this is where India built the most important partnership of the series so far. An out-of-sorts Rahane and a suspect Pujara joined hands to ensure that India finally showed why they are the No.1 side in Test cricket.
By the end of the day’s play though, things had changed and Rahane was once again back to the old flowing self where he looked sure of his off-stump and there was no hesitation in coming forward or going back to a delivery.