Clever tactics and some dynamic pace bowling from Pat Cummins helped Australia keep India at bay on day three of the third Test yesterday.
On a docile Ranchi deck offering minimal assistance to pace or spin, Australia had to find innovative ways to challenge the home side’s commanding batting line-up.
Although there were stages at which Australia’s bowlers tired, most notably the last hour before tea, overall it was a wonderfully patient, disciplined and persistent bowling display.
In similar circumstances, England’s bowlers wilted repeatedly in their recent five-Test series in India.
In the final Test of that series England batted first and made 477 only to be trampled on by the Indians as they racked up 7-759 in reply. But, as we’ve seen this month, there is a significant gulf in class between the attacks of England and Australia.
Apart from champion quick Stuart Broad, no English bowler managed to consistently tie down the Indian batsmen. Australia, meanwhile, have been able to take control in the field via accurate, frugal spells from Josh Hazlewood, Steve O’Keefe and, in this Test, Cummins.
Australia blanketed the Indian batsmen in the opening session yesterday. Hazlewood, Cummins, O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon each maintained tight lines and lengths, allowing captain Steve Smith to set attacking fields.
Australia conceded just 73 runs from 30.4 overs in that session and, while they grabbed only one wicket, they were denied another by an umpiring blunder.
O’Keefe and Lyon were used as stock bowlers, with Cummins and Hazlewood the strike options. Hazlewood found some nice reverse swing but it was the younger quick who was most threatening, just as he had been on day two.
As I wrote in the lead-up to this Test, Cummins or James Pattinson were far better suited to partnering Hazlewood than Jackson Bird, who is very similar in style to Hazlewood.
On a pitch as unresponsive as this one, it is of great value to have a powerful, intimidating quick like Cummins, Pattinson or Mitchell Starc, who is out injured. Not only do they add crucial variety to the attack but they also have a way of belying the nature of the pitch to produce startling deliveries.
Starc did this in Sri Lanka last year, Pattinson in India in 2013, and Cummins has achieved it here in Ranchi. Given the lifeless state of the pitch it is quite remarkable he managed to get three wickets via short balls. When he bent his back Cummins was able to get the ball to leap startlingly towards the throats of the Indians.
It was this lift which undid KL Rahul late on day two and which accounted for both Ajinkya Rahane and Ravi Ashwin yesterday. In between those latter two wickets Cummins knocked over Virat Kohli, enticing an airy drive at an outswinger from the Indian skipper.
Through all this, classy Indian first drop Cheteshwar Pujara defied the Australians and, after a slow start, switched gears to score freely in the second session.
With Australia’s pacemen presenting the clearest danger, Smith instructed O’Keefe to bowl over the wicket and aim outside the leg stump of Cheteshwar Pujara, who continually padded balls away.
What on the surface appeared to be a defensive tactic in fact had an offensive edge to it. Australia managed to keep Pujara down one end of the pitch while their quicks targeted his more vulnerable partners. Pujara looked as though he could bat for months so it was a cunning ploy by the Australians and one which helped secure the wicket of Ashwin.
As well as Australia bowled and as sharp as their tactics were, Pujara still stands between them and a distinct advantage in this Test. With two days to go, this Test is beautifully poised.