A greenish pitch at The Oval, hosting a Test match in June for the first time, isn’t a common sight. Conditions were a tad overcast as well. Yet, India are under pressure after putting Australia into bat in The Ultimate Test.
An uninspiring show from the quicks helped Australia bounce back as they are strongly placed at 327/3 at stumps on Day I of this World Test Championship final.
Steve Smith (95 batting) and centurion Travis Head (146 batting) deserve the bulk of the credit for their unbroken 251-run partnership, which put Australia back in control after they were wobbling at 76/3 early in the day’s second session. The enterprising Head did outscore Smith with his array of strokes, but Smith’s solidity in terms of his defence and pouncing on any scoring opportunity was just equally important for Australia.
One certainly feels for skipper Rohit Sharma, who made the right call at the toss in his 50th Test, only to see his bowlers hand the advantage over to the Australians in spite of the favourable bowling conditions. Barring Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj to an extent, the other bowlers were pedestrian to say the least.
No wonder India missed Jasprit Bumrah. The spotlight will be on pacers Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur as they were mediocre for most part of the day.
The duo’s performance so far will again raise questions over the absence of Ravichandran Ashwin in the XI. Had the distinguished off-spinner been a part of the XI in place of either Umesh or Shardul, the situation may not have been so bad for India.
India were off to an ideal start as Siraj’s just outside the off-stump line drew first blood, sending Usman Khawaja back for nought. David Warner, after surviving a probing spell from Shami, started looking good largely due to Umesh’s freebies.
But Warner was made to wait for a long-awaited Test fifty as the leg-stump line from Shardul brought about his caught-behind dismissal on the stroke of lunch. India had more reasons to cheer soon after lunch when Shami’s execution of the seam cleaned up Marnus Labuschagne.
There was still enough on the wicket for India’s fast bowlers to reopen the Australian batting group’s wounds. But that’s when Head played the counterattacking role to perfection.
Surprisingly, none of the Indian bowlers could combat Head with the short ball at his body, which appears to be his weak area.
At the other end, a rock solid Smith kept holding one end up with his excellent judgement. For sure his grind was crucial for both Head and Australia.
Show of solidarity
Both teams wore black armbands and observed a minute’s silence ahead of the start of Day I in memory of the Odisha train tragedy victims.