A special century by Virat Kohli, a debatable decision that consumed his wicket, a fifer for off-spinner Nathan Lyon on a pitch that India thought wasn’t conducive enough to include a specialist spinner, a chilling smack on the helmet of Marcus Harris and a broken finger of Aaron Finch – Sunday’s third day was as eventful as it can get in Test cricket.
At the end of another gripping day of the second Test, whose fortunes swung like the proverbial yo-yo, Australia wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that they have a slight advantage going into the fourth day here at the Optus Stadium. Australia finished the day on 132/4 in 48 overs and coupled with their crucial 43-run first-innings’ lead, they already sit on a handy cushion of 175. With the pitch getting not any easier, and Lyon’s spin looking as dangerous, if not more, as the fast bowling on this two-paced surface, it’s going to be an uphill task for India in the fourth innings. If India are to make a fist of this target, they need more than Kohli to come to party.
India, overnight 172/3, threatened to overhaul Australia’s first innings total of 326 with Kohli (123, 257b, 13x4, 1x6) looking set for a big knock. He received handy support from Hanuma Vihari after the fourth-ball dismissal of overnight batsman Ajinkya Rahane (51). Rahane was only the first of the five wickets that Lyon went on to take on the day for his seventh five-wicket (5/61) haul against India, equaling Muttiah Muralitharan’s record.
Kohli and a confident-looking Vihari added an even 50 for the fifth wicket to steady the ship. Even after Vihari’s dismissal, India still stood a fine chance of coming to close to Australia’s total but Kohli’s fall minutes before lunch dashed all their hopes. Notwithstanding Rishabh Pant’s cameo (36), India folded for 283 in 105.5 overs.
Earlier, Kohli lit up the morning session with a fighting century. If there was any reassertion needed of his stature as the best batsman in the world, he presented one with a knock that was uncharacteristically watchful but the need of the hour as well. A rare moment of lapse in concentration, however, tilted the balance in favour of the hosts. The right-hander went hard at a full and wide delivery from Pat Cummins only to manage a thick bottom outside edge that was snapped up by a diving Peter Handscomb at second slip. The replays weren’t conclusive but since umpire Kumar Dharmasena’s soft signal was out, third umpire couldn’t rule against the on-field decision.
The Indian skipper punched Mitchell Starc down the pitch and the ball raced to long-off boundary to bring up his 25th Test hundred in 127 innings, the fewest a batsman has taken after the peerless Don Bradman (67).
There were no cuss words and there was no punching the air. The Indian skipper walked to the middle of the pitch, took off his helmet, rested it on the turf, pointed to his bat and gestured towards commentators’ box to suggest he lets his bat do all the talking. Indeed, few batsmen have managed to walk the talk like Kohli has in the last four years or so.
This has to be Kohli’s one of finest centuries as he swallowed his ego, sacrificed his flair during an innings that was quite uncharacteristic of his style. This was Kohli’s sixth century in Australia and the first one by an Indian batsman in Perth since 1992 when Sachin Tendulkar struck a fine hundred when he was still in his teens.
The game, which had stayed in balance till then, turned on its head, giving Australia a decisive edge. Kohli’s dismissal exposed the long tail which batted like it was expected to.
Australia then piled more misery on the Indians by extending their close to 180 with still six wickets in hand. There’s, however, uncertainty over Aaron Finch (25 retd hurt) who received a nasty hit on his right index finger. The right-hander, writhing in considerable pain, decided to leave the field and left for a hospital for a scan. Harris too looked rattled after being hit hard on his helmet by a Jasprit delivery that floored him.
Brief scores: Australia (I Innings): 326 all out vs and 132/4 in 48 overs (Aaron Finch 25 retd hurt, Usman Khawaja 41 n.o.) vs India (I Innings; o/n: 172/3): 283 all out in 105.5 overs (Virat Kohli 123, Ajinkya Rahane 51, Rishabh Pant 36; Nathan Lyon 5-67, Josh Hazlewood 2-66, Mitchell Starc 2-79).