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Blow for India’s whitewash plans as Australia hit back hard in 3rd Test, take crucial 47-run lead on Day 1

India batter Cheteshwar Pujara gets clean bowled on the first day of the 3rd Test match against Australia, at Holkar Cricket Stadium, in Indore on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (ANI Photo)

By: Shubham Ghosh

Indian batters’ longstanding struggle against spin were thoroughly exposed before Australia applied themselves on a rank turner to take control of the third Test on a frenetic opening day of the match at the Holkar Stadium in Indore on Wednesday (1).

Left-arm spinner Matthew Kuhnemann (5/16) picked up his maiden five-wicket haul as Australia skittled India out for a paltry 109 shortly after lunch on Day 1.

Virat Kohli top-scored for India with 22 off 52 balls.

Trailing 0-2 in the series, Australia came out with a strong resolve and purpose to end the day at 156 for four, taking a 47-run lead.

Ravindra Jadeja (4/63) took all four wickets for India including that of stand-in captain Steve Smith (26 off 38) before close of play.

Usman Khawaja (60 off 147) was the standout performer for Australia as he tackled the skill-full Jadeja and R Ashwin with a straight bat and soft hands.

Marnus Labuschagne (31 off 91 balls), who was bowled off a no ball early in his innings, rode on his luck to share a 96-run stand with Khawaja, the highest partnership of the series for the visitors.

Though the usually accurate Indian spinners were not relentless with their lines and lengths, Khawaja and Labuschagne rectified the “sweeping” mistakes they made in Delhi by playing straight and trusting their defense.

When India were batting, the pitch seemed unplayable but Khawaja and other Australia batters showed the way to the home team. Khawaja’s gritty knock also had a couple of drives on the off-side.

He was also not shy of playing the reverse sweep but mostly played straight. The southpaw hardly put a foot wrong in his crafty knock but when he did, he had to pay for it. In the 43rd over of the innings, Khawaja went for the sweep from around the off-stump off Jadeja and ended up giving a catch at deep midwicket.

Like Nagpur and Delhi, the game is set for another three-day finish and a 100-run lead on this surface will be worth gold.

India were also guilty of bowling four no-balls.

Earlier, having lost seven of the batters by the end of the opening session, India could add only 25 more runs to their total with Kuhnemann ending with career-best figures in first-class cricket.

If it wasn’t for Umesh Yadav’s 17 off 13 balls, India would have struggled to get past the 100-run mark. The only wicket that came India’s way in the afternoon session was of Travis Head (9), who missed a straight ball from Jadeja to be adjudged lbw. It was a sign of desperation that India exhausted two of their three views in the first 10 overs. Labuschagne got a second life when India did not review a lbw call off Ashwin.

The great Matthew Hayden on air called the the black soil surface at the Holkar Stadium a day-three pitch and it sure behaved like one.

Three India batters including skipper Rohit Sharma (12), Jadeja (4) and Shreyas Iyer (0) perished while trying to attack. Kohli looked assured in the middle before being trapped lbw by Todd Murphy towards the end of the session.

Winning the toss for the first time in the series, India expectedly decided to bat first. Shubman Gill replaced an out-of-form K L Rahul in the playing eleven while Umesh Yadav was brought in for the rested Mohammad Shami. Having regained match fitness, both Mitchell Starc and Cameron Green made Australia’s playing eleven. Starc’s first over to Rohit was among the highlights of the morning session.

Before the spinners ran through the Indian batting, Starc got the ball to swing giving the India skipper a tough time. Rohit got a faint outside edge on the very first ball he faced but Australia did not take a review. Three balls later, Starc got the ball to swing back in and it flicked Rohit’s pads.

Ball tracking showed the ball would have hit the off stump but Australia did not take the review. Spin was introduced in the sixth over and Kuhnemman got the ball to turn sharply.

In the last ball of the over, Rohit stepped out to play across the line and got beaten in the flight and Alex Carey made a clean stumping. Kuhnemann had Gill caught at first slip with the opener getting a thick outside edge while offering a forward defence.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s stay lasted only four balls as Lyon got one to turn massively from wide off stump that crashed into the middle stump. The ball kept a tad low as well and Pujara was found wanting on the back foot. When Shreyas Iyer played an attempted cut on to his stumps, India had lost half their side.

(PTI)

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