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Lyon four-for swings pendulum Australia’s way

Wisden India logo Wisden India 26-03-2017
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One of the more glorious sights in cricket is two tall, strong, genuinely quick bowlers operating in tandem, letting it fly. On any track, when two such practitioners give it their all, it makes for irresistible viewing. When, on an unusually responsive deck on the Indian subcontinent, their spirits lifted and their fatigue of the previous week week having magically disappeared, they make one final push for glory, you just can’t take your eye off the action.

Full scorecard: India vs Australia, 4th Test 

Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins relished the opportunity of plying their wares on arguably the most helpful pitch of the series. This was no WACA or Gabba of old, but having come off bending their backs on the lifeless strip in Ranchi last week, they enjoyed themselves at the HPCA Stadium on a glorious Sunday (March 26), putting India’s weakened and shortened top order through a searching examination of skill, technique, fortitude and courage in the fourth and deciding Test.

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India had their own men of steel in KL Rahul, the most consistent Indian batsman this series, and Cheteshwar Pujara, who has come into his own after a reasonably iffy start to lay the foundation from which to hunt down the visitors’ first-innings total of 300.

Their 87-run second-wicket association ought to have been the launch pad from which India should have kicked on, but the beauty of Test cricket lies in the paradoxes that it throws up. One poor, ego-driven, ill-conceived pull by Rahul off Cummins opened the door, and the wily Nathan Lyon stepped in to drive a dagger into the Indian middle order on the second day, making the most of the bounce that was on offer.

Lyon’s four-wicket burst in the passage of play post tea pushed India into a corner, the hosts finishing the day on 248 for 6, still trailing by 52. The second new ball is just four overs old, and Wriddhiman Saha and Ravindra Jadeja can expect another resolve-testing burst on the third morning as they seek to close in on the Australian total.

Photos: Kuldeep Yadav has Australia undone for 300 on Test debut

India vs Australia: Kuldeep Yadav has Australia undone for 300 on Test debut

After taking 8 for 50 in the first innings of the Bangalore Test, Lyon had spent 75 fruitless overs before dismissing Pujara in Ranchi. The offspinner had to wait until the last ball of his 15th over on Sunday to pick up his first wicket, but once he dismissed Pujara, again, caught bat-pad in the first over after tea, he wheeled away to put Australia in a position from which they can eye an unexpected, shock series victory.

Before Lyon made his presence felt in the last couple of hours, it was the arresting duo of Hazlewood and Cummins that held centrestage. Seldom have two visiting pacemen looked as threatening as they did almost right throughout the day that India began on zero without loss through Rahul and M Vijay. It was obvious that there would be something for the bowlers all the way through the six hours, but India’s game plan would have revolved around blunting the Hazlewood-Cummins edge straightaway because Australia didn’t have a third paceman or even an occasional medium pacer to turn to.

Vijay survived a torrid burst from Hazlewood, but only just, even as Rahul looked every bit as assured as someone coming into this game with four half-centuries in five digs should. In an extended first burst, Hazlewood hit the vertical cracks a couple of times to get the ball to go away from the right-hand batsman, one edge from Vijay falling just short of Matthew Wade and a loose drive finding mid-off on the half-volley.

Vijay’s luck wasn’t to last beyond 43 minutes, a tentative poke and a regulation outside-edge safely nestling in Wade’s gloves. Australia had started strongly, their consistency and sustained hostility rewarded, and India needed Rahul and Pujara to bat with circumspect watchfulness.



Pujara began with the confidence of someone who had made 202 in his previous hit but also the awareness that he was starting on zero. A glorious off-drive off Hazlewood to his second delivery was an aberration as he steeled himself, riding the bounce beautifully and keeping the ball down even as Rahul too showed great resolve, his eyes glued to the lifting deliveries till the last minute as he swayed and weaved out of harm’s way at the last instant without sacrificing either balance or poise. 

Having survived a screamer from Cummins that flew off the outside edge, brushed a leaping Matt Renshaw’s fingertips at first slip and rocketed to the fence, Rahul upped the tempo a little with three quick boundaries, the best of them a gorgeous back-drive that sped past Cummins in a jiffy. India took lunch reasonably satisfied at 64 for 1, Australia’s discipline keeping the rate of scoring down but not quite bringing the rewards.

Upon resumption, Rahul got on the bike, slog-sweeping and then whipping Steve O’Keefe’s left-arm spin against the turn to bring up another pleasing, well-crafted half-century. With Pujara in Zen mode and runs coming a little freely, it was India’s game to control.

But immediately on reaching his third successive half-century, Rahul’s concentration and focus began to waver and a certain looseness in approach came to the fore. Cummins, in his third spell of the day, was cranking up the pace and the verbals, and Rahul responded to the bowler’s taunts by trying to pull from outside off, only to toe-end to mid-off, a stroke that deserves the strongest censure.

Ajinkya Rahane, in his first Test as skipper, tried to fight fire with fire, attempting an ambitious ramp, then pulling and top-edging a pull off successive deliveries in that same over. However, after that nervy exchange, he settled down in the immovable Pujara’s company to ensure that for all their industry and intent, Australia had only two wickets to show in the first four hours.

Lyon turned the game on its head in the post-tea session, which straddled an extended spell of 19-3-45-4. Pujara was gobbled up with the sixth ball after the break, undone more by bounce than turn after another excellent hand, before Lyon extended Karun Nair’s poor run following the triple-hundred against England by having him dismissed in near-identical fashion. All the hard work of the afternoon session had gone to nought and, at 167 for 4 and a batsman short, India were in some strife.

Keeping his place ahead of Saha despite the latter’s Ranchi hundred, R Ashwin produced his best batting effort of the series even as Rahane played a very strange and unRahane-like innings. With the second new ball imminent, the duo launched a calculated assault on O’Keefe and Lyon to deal in boundaries and add 49 off just 86 deliveries when, in another twist, Lyon evicted both in the space of 20 deliveries.

Rahane stayed back to a full ball that bounced and took his edge for Steven Smith to pouch an excellent grab at slip while Ashwin, also on the back foot, was beaten for turn and the recipient of a marginal leg before call that stayed with the umpire on review too. Another flash point, more reconstruction to do at 221 for 6.

Jadeja, with two beefy sixes, provided late entertainment but both he and Saha rode their luck somewhat to stay unseparated till the close in the knowledge that an arduous task lies ahead.

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