India 151 for 5 (Jadeja 48, Boland 1-29, Lyon 1-4) track Australia 469 (Head 163, Smith 121, Siraj 4-108) in 318 overs
Australia’s bowlers showed India what they had done wrong on day one, with their quicks hitting perfect lengths on the still-useful Oval pitch as their side took control of the World Test Championship final. At stumps on day two, Australia reduced India to 151 for 5 in reply to their first innings total of 469.
All that being said, India’s main problems were not because they picked four quicks, but because of the way they bowled. On a pitch bouncier than a typical Indian pitch, they had to bowl fuller than a traditionally good length to challenge the stumps consistently and introduce all manner of dismissals. They didn’t do it consistently enough, and although their bowlers fought back in the first half on day two to take 7 for 142, it may have come a little too late, as they let Australia escape to 327 for 3 on day one.
Thrown out almost exactly halfway through the day, Australia’s fast bowlers came out and showed how it was done, on a pitch that was now starting to show cracks all over the surface. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins often went overboard at the start of their spells with the new ball, and Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill got off to a slow start, but it seemed a matter of time before the quicks figured out the ideal length – full but not driveable.
Cummins hit this length with the last ball of the sixth over, biting it and trapping the Rohit seamer in front. Then Scott Boland, a bowler seemingly designed in a bowling laboratory in these conditions, bowled a vicious u-dipper – to follow up nine dot balls to two openers – which fatally shouldered Gill’s hands.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli then put on 20 either side of tea, looking good but always wary of the seam movement and occasional inconsistent bounce that characterized this surface, before Cameron Green produced a replica of Boland’s ball that hit Gill. Pujara produced a replica of Gill’s reply and India were 50 for 3 with all their first three either bowled or lbw.
It became 71 for 4 when the returning Starc joined the fun with a vicious delivery to Kohli, angled over the left arm and flying off a length. Kohli, pressing on the front foot, was in no position to negotiate safely; all he could do was get the ball to second slip.
Rahane could have fallen soon after, had Cummins not overstepped when he hit a peach that straightened from that perfect full length to hit his outside edge and hit his back pad roughly in front of the off stump. Rahane reviewed after being bowled out and replays picked up a no-ball; ball tracking showed two reds and a ruling on the line of scrimmage.
Jadeja, who has benefited from Australia’s bowlers – especially Starc – often overplaying him, rattled a ball that was close to running, while Rahane, who returned to Test cricket for the first time since January 2022, batted more calmly as he looked just as fluent. India would hope their partnership extends to the stumps; Lyon dashed those hopes, striking with his ninth ball of the match.
Things picked up, however, with a sustained short-ball attack on Head’s body that finally paid off when the left-hander gloved Siraj down the leg on 163. Mohammed Shami then produced a beauty to return No. 6 Green, slanting the ball full. from the width of the pleat to pull the loose fit away from the body.
Smith was next, pushing away from his body on an innocuous shardul Thakur by the visiting spinner to play out for 121. India batted three times before Australia reached 400, and might have hoped to wrap up their innings not long after, but counter-attacking 48 Alex Carey’s score took Carey past 450. Carey had his share of luck – especially against Umesh Yadav who whacked his bat a few times after lunch – before going down in familiar fashion, lbw trying to swing back at off-stump- delivery from Jadeja.
It was the only Australian wicket to fall to spin; Siraj finished as India’s most successful bowler, finishing with figures of 4 for 108, while Shami and Thakur took two each.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is the Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo