One of the most captivating soap operas in Test cricket over the past ten years has been Nathan Lyon's never-ending quest to hit Cheteshwar Pujara's pads and trap him in front. a crucial component of one of the sport's most underappreciated rivalries.
Moreover, the renowned Australian spinner has only ever succeeded in completing his task before last Saturday (February 18).Then, on a sweltering Delhi afternoon, he repeated the action twice over the course of six deliveries. The first time, he could have been defeated, but Pat Cummins decided against reviewing. When Pat Cummins did decide to review, he did get him out the second time. Pujara had exited his crease twice, as he usually does.
Its significance was increased by the fact that Pujara accomplished this feat in his 100th Test, just as India's celebrated Test No. 3 appeared to be taking shape. Its importance was increased by the fact that it occurred when Australia's participation in the Test and maybe the entire series was at stake. Because, if Pujara had continued to make the kind of score the 30+ members of his family wearing "CP" t-shirts in the audience were anticipating him to produce, Pat Cummins & Co. may not have been able to become the first Australian side to triumph in India since 2004. Between the two times he had Pujara, Lyon did clean up a well-positioned Rohit Sharma for good measure.
A few hours later, another event occurred that may have defined Australia's future in the Test, maybe the series, and most likely as a Test squad. Travis Head came out to bat first with Usman Khawaja after David Warner was declared out of the game due to a concussion. In first-class cricket, let alone at the highest level, it was his first appearance at the top of the order. India had come within one run of matching Australia's first innings total, putting the contest on a knife's edge. Perhaps Head's existing status as a batter in these circumstances was similar. Not to mention Australia's standing in the Test after their collapse in their second attempt in Nagpur.
And what we witnessed from the South Australian left-hander was one of the more daring counterattacks against Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin in recent memory. While he wasn't utilizing his feet and jumping at them, he remained back and allowed his incredibly deft hands control the ball's path and, consequently, the field. It was the sort of cameo Head had been reciting frequently throughout the last two home summers in Australia. But, this was unique. That batting was shrewd. He did this by attacking the top-tier Indian spinners in a way that forced them to alter their strategies, which rarely happens when they are playing at home. To the extent that at one point you could overhear one of the Indians from the slip cordon go, "Kuch alag karna padega" (We'll have do something different here).
Most people anticipated that Matthew Renshaw, the more seasoned opener and Warner's replacement due to a concussion, would fully fulfill the "like for like" condition by leaving the field with Khawaja at the top of the order. Yet the decision to go with Head by the Australians may be a portent of what is ahead for Australia as a Test side after Warner's run in the format is up, which is probably going to happen this year. Even in a little article, Head has demonstrated the fortitude to not allow Ashwin & Co. settle because of the hairline fracture to his elbow, which is likely to keep him from participating in the rest of this series. That should essentially guarantee him a position at the top.
It was the kind of day that Australia had anticipated having plenty of as they got ready for this highly anticipated tour. Lyon's first-session game-changing play and Head's game-changing play in the closing 45 minutes provided the ideal bookends. They were unable to thoroughly dominate the game, as Indian teams frequently do when they are up in similar circumstances. Throughout the middle session, there were moments when it appeared highly likely that Australia would finish with a sizable first innings advantage.
Axar Patel and Ashwin then made sure they didn't. If anything, it took another strong performance from Australia, when they cheaply claimed the final two wickets, to ensure that India didn't end up with a significant lead. It served as just another illustration of how difficult it would be to utterly dominate this Indian team during a game on home turf.
On what was Australia's best day on tour so far, it was a crucial reminder of how difficult it is to win days of Test cricket, forget matches or series in India.
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In order to combat spin, Cummins urges batters to develop "better approaches"