Rishabh Pant was just three runs away from a spectacular century at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Without being bogged down by the nervous 90s, back to back boundaries off Nathan Lyon took him to 97. It was a shot one too many against Lyon at a crucial stage of the match when a mishit was taken sharply by Pat Cummins at backward point, hampering India’s hopes of pulling off a miraculous win. At the beginning of the session, India were in firm control of proceedings, by the end, with the two big wickets of Pant and Cheteshwar Pujara, Australia bounced back for some parity with India going to break at 280 for 5 with just 127 needed now.
Given that Pant was dropped twice off Lyon once on 3 and the other on 56 by Tim Paine, it was redemption for Lyon, especially after how the ‘keeper-bat went after him, taking him to the cleaners. What the wicket did was not just end the match-altering 148-run stand between Pant and Pujara, but took victory slightly further away, when it was a far cry when the day began. After Pant fell, Pujara switched gears and attacked the Australian pacers, while Hanuma Vihari, who was fighting for his spot in the XI, was struggling from a hamstring injury. Pujara smashed Cummins for three successive boundaries getting the scoreboard moving swiftly after getting to his second fifty of the match as India’s scoring rate was very healthy in the first hour after lunch.
Vihari took as many as 17 balls to get off the mark, with his injury not making run-scoring easy for him. Meanwhile, Hazlewood returned to knock over Pujara of a beautiful delivery that kept low and straightened a tad bit after pitching. With both set batsmen gone, it was going to tough work for India thereafter, Ashwin and Vihari kept Australia at bay, but Vihari’s condition doesn’t look very promising. But it seems like Jadeja will bat with a dislocated thumb.
It wasn’t a typical Pant innings, who started slowly to find his feet, scoring 7 off 36 balls at the start before switching gears to then get to 50 off just 64 balls. He kept the scoreboard ticking with singles, boundaries and even clobbered Lyon for back-to-back boundaries including a six over long on. Paine persisted with his best bowler for a fifth day wicket, but Pant smashed him for a couple of sixes, his discomfort from the injury hardly visible in that quickfire knock. Pant’s aggression complemented Pujara’s calm as the pair worked their way to a 100-run stand for the fourth wicket in the opening session, giving India an outside chance to push for a win if it came down to that.
Australia had their tails up after Nathan Lyon struck as early as in the second over of the day’s play to eke out a nudge from Ajinkya Rahane who was taken at short leg by Matthew Wade. Lyon then got a faint edge off Pant that was dropped by Paine, as Australia seemed in control of proceedings. From one end Pat Cummins was getting some movement with Pujara covering it, while also using his feet against Lyon unsettling the offspinner’s lengths. Nothing worked for Lyon as edges fell short and the chances that carried weren’t taken by Paine, who put down Pant twice in the session. The second drop was a replica of the first, the only difference being a fainter edge, but Pant survived, which is what mattered for India, as India went into the Lunch break the happier side.
Brief Scores :Australia 338 & 312/6 dec (Marnus Labuschagne 73, Steve Smith 81, Cameron Green 84; Navdeep Saini 2-54, R Ashwin 2-95) lead India 244 & 280/5(Shubman Gill 31, Rohit Sharma 52, Rishabh Pant 97, Cheteshwar Pujara 77; Nathan Lyon 2-101) by 127 runs.