Sloppy India let advantage slip

Cricket Second Test:: Centurion Smith and Johnson frustrate India as Australia take a 97-run lead

Sloppy India let advantage slip

Misplaced aggression, ill-advised bravado and some mediocre bowling combined to deprive India a significant advantage they were all poised to gain early on Friday morning.

As a result, Australia not only stopped India’s ascendency but attained a slight upper-hand by close of third day’s play here on Friday.

Ishant Sharma had rattled Mitchell Marsh’s off-stump after the batsman had shouldered arms to an incoming delivery while Varun Aaron had delivered a perfect bumper to have a fending Brad Haddin caught at short leg. At 247 for six, Australia, overnight 211/4, were still 161 runs behind and India were in a position to gain a substantial first innings lead but they ran into a brick wall called Mitchell Johnson (88, 93b, 13x4, 1x6), who, against the run of play, flayed the visiting attack to help the hosts wrest the initiative in the second Test.

Australia eventually posted 505 all out with their tail wagging a bit too long for India’s comfort. Having taken a handy 97-run lead, Australia left India battling at 71 for the loss of in-from M Vijay. Trailing by 26 runs, the visitors had Shikhar Dhawan (26) and Cheteshwar Pujara (15) keeping vigil in the middle. While India managed to keep the damage to the minimum, they will have to bat out of their skin to consider themselves even safe with still two days’ play left in the match.
Indian pacemen had served the Australian batsmen with a sustained spell of hostile fast bowling for first hour or so. They posed overnight batsmen Steven Smith (133, 303m, 191b, 13x4, 2x6) and Mitchell Marsh numerous questions and answers weren’t convincing.

Mitchell departed. Haddin followed him soon and in walked Johnson. As soon as the southpaw strode out to bat, Ishant Sharma and Varun Aaron unleashed a barrage of bouncers while close-in fielders accorded the batsman a generous lip service. The focus was gone and the plot was lost as the fired-up left-hander carted the bowling all around the Gabba.

Johnson is no mug with the bat. He has a century against South Africa in Cape Town to go with nine career half-centuries which is a much better record than some of India’s top-order batsmen here and their attempts to get under his skin backfired completely. He had little regard for the high pace the bowlers were generating – the faster the ball came, the quicker it was dispatched to the pickets. Indian bowlers persisted with their daredevilry for far too long when reverting to discipline would have done the job for them.  

By the time India realised their folly of feeding to Johnson’s strengths he had begun to hurt them. The lead was getting thinner by the over. Smith struck his second century of the series but it was Johnson who stole the show by dominating the 148-run partnership with his skipper. Though Smith himself was batting like a dream, he was happy to take a backseat and watch Johnson motor away.

Dhoni has often been criticised for his defensive approach and on this day India could have done with some of his old strategy. He attacked a bit too long and it wasn’t like edges and miscued strokes were racing to the fence. There were perfect cricketing strokes being played. Perhaps the success with short-ball strategy against England at Lord’s was playing on his mind.

Johnson was caught behind, ironically, to a full ball while Smith played on to be dismissed for the first time in the series. Smith became the 10th Australian batsman to hit a century on debut as captain and the third day was remarkably in contrast with the opening when he had a tough time marshalling his bowling resources, or the lack of them, in soaring temperatures.  

India’s misery wasn’t going to end with Johnson and Smith’s dismissals, which occurred in the same over by Ishant. Mitchell Starc (52) and Nathan Lyon (23) and then Starc and Josh Hazlewood (32) added 56 and 51 runs for the ninth and 10th wickets respectively to frustrate them further. In all, Australia raised 255 runs for the last three stands to change the course of the game. Perhaps decisively?

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