Sports, Cricket

Usman’s patient hundred boosts Australian confidence

Published : 09 Mar 2023 09:08 PM

Australia managed only the fourth opening stand of 50 or more for a visiting side in India in the last five years. Usman Khawaja and Steven Smith batted through the middle session, the first wicketless session of the series, the most comfortable any batting side has been in a session against India in India in the last 10 years. Khawaja scored a fine, patient hundred, only the sixth against India in India in the last five years.

Yet it was India who controlled which way the game headed for the most part after losing the toss on a flat pitch. Only to lose the gamble with the new ball at the end of the day and hand Australia a slight advantage. Khawaja ended unbeaten on 104 having brought up the milestone in the last over of the day, and Cameron Green feasted on the new ball to score 49 in 64 in an 85-run stand that started after the loss of two wickets for 19 runs.

The Ahmedabad pitch was a complete contrast to the first three tests Bowlers had to work hard to maintain control, defend with the fields and attack the stumps. Sometimes the payoff stretched across spells like whenUmesh Yadav bowled a spell full of bouncers, and Mohammed Shamitook the wicket with a full ball in the next spell, his second. R Ashwin andRavondraJadeja managed one each, andAxarPatelprovided control in his 12 overs for just 14 runs.

A measure of how difficult it was for the bowlers is that India managed to draw only 34 false responses; there were 40 in the first session of the last Test. Yet through most of the day, India made sure the batters had to take risks to even go past 2.5 an over. Knowing they could trust the pitch, Australia waited for the loose balls, which also showed in an unusually high control percentage. The six false responses in 33 overs in the middle session was the highest control percentage for a visiting side in India in a session of Test cricket in India in the last 10 years.

This is where the quality of Ashwin and Shami, and the depth in the attack, shone through. For long periods, Ashwin managed to keep the batters in check even though he didn't beat the bat. The presence of a fifth bowler meant India could toil away tirelessly. It paid off with a break in concentration for Smith, who played Jadeja on, and a beauty from Shami to send Peter Handscomb back to reduce Australia to 170 for 4.

The spinners then all but shut down Khawaja and Green, bowling five overs for three runs when Rohit Sharma asked for the new ball. Now this was a departure from how India usually operate on such days. They don't risk taking the new ball with bowlers who have had a long day in the field. Usually they bowl around four overs with the new ball in the evening, and then have another shot at it on the next morning.

Here, India took the new ball with nine overs to go, and Green took to it. A flat pitch, bowlers at the end of the day, and suddenly Australia had 54 runs in nine overs. Green did all the damage as Khawaja kept picking singles to start the final over of the day on 99. Then he got a half-volley to strike his 15th boundary having struck at just 41.43 despite having offered only 13 false responses in a 251-ball stay.

This was a little like the start with the first new ball. Shami bowled the first ball straight to second slip, then offered more byes, a catch went down, and Australia raced away to 56 for 0 in the first 14 overs. This is when India would have been reminded of theChennaiTestof 2020-21, one of their only three home defeats in the last 10 overs.

Led by Ashwin, India started to turn the screws. The second hour went for just 19. Travis Head tried to break the shackles but found mid-on. There was only a hint of reverse for a while, and Shami took out MarnusLabuschagne with that.

With not much expected from their lower order, Australia had to be watchful in the middle session. It was also when all the bowlers gave Rohit excellent control. Just 74 were scored in the second session of 33 overs.

Finally Smith defended one loosely, getting out to Jadeja for the seventh time, four of them bowled. Nobody has found his timber that often. With a 70-over old ball, Shami managed to hold the line to go past Handscomb's edge and send the off stump on a cartwheel.

The tension built towards the end of the day.ViratKohliused to wait for the next morning and fresher bowlers to make the next big move. Rohit chose the evening. Green came out the victor.

Amid all this, Khawaja just batted in the purest sense. No premeditation, no attempt to force the pace, just organically responding to what was bowled at him. He was severe off the toes, and also quick to work the ball square every time someone dropped short. Forty-six of his runs came between long leg and midwicket, which should tell you how he waited for the loose balls. As he said at the end of the day, it was a beautiful batting pitch and he just didn't want to get out.