The fourth day of the third Test between India and Australia at Ranchi gave a clear indication as to who held the edge going into the fifth. It was clearly India. Here are some observations from the day’s play.
Marathon Man Pujara
Cheteshwar Pujara walked in during the 32 over, late on the second day. He eventually departed shortly after tea on the fourth, 162 overs later. In that period, he scored 202 runs and faced 525 balls. Pay attention to that last figure. It happens to be the most balls faced by an Indian batsman in an innings in a Test match, beating the previous record held by Rahul Dravid (495) in a Test against Pakistan in 2004. The previous record at an Indian venue was 504 by Pakistan’s Younis Khan, during his 267 against India in Bangalore in 2004. Pujara was near meditative through his innings, rarely letting his concentration waver, and ensuring he was the bedrock of India’s innings till they passed the 500 mark at least.
Heavy cloud but, no swing
After three sunny days, the sun hid behind the clouds on the fourth, so the floodlights had to be switched on through the day. The Australian bowlers would have welcomed the overcast conditions, hoping to nip out the last four Indian wickets quickly and building a sizeable lead. Surprisingly, the overhead conditions didn’t give them the swing they were looking for. In fact, even the new ball barely swung. The sight of Saha and Pujara scoring boundaries must have deflated them further. It is also unusual to have not one, but two wicketless sessions on the fourth day on an Indian pitch. It was a gloomy day overall, but for the Australians, it was more than that.
Wicketkeepers in Test matches are often thrust in the unfashionable batting positions of No. 7 or 8, often having to bat with the tail. Wriddhiman Saha seems to revel in it, and of late he has built a reputation for being one of the most reliable lower-order batsmen in the world. When an injury kept him out of the Test squad earlier this season, the question was whether he would walk back in to the team, given that his replacement Parthiv Patel did well enough to retain his place. Saha was preferred and he repaid the faith shown by the selectors by scoring his third Test century, at Ranchi today. In his 199 stand with Pujara, he showed more aggressive intent, stepping out to the spinners. That relieved a lot of pressure off Pujara.
Gaffaney jumps the gun
When on 140, Pujara’s heart may have skipped a beat when he tried to hook a bouncer from Josh Hazlewood. The ball appeared to pass his glove but the appeal from the keeper and slips behind was half-hearted. Even the bowler barely showed any interest. However, umpire Chris Gaffaney was caught in a moment of uncertainty, on camera. On hearing the feeble appeal, he raised his hand to give Pujara out, before quickly scratching his head, realising that he may have jumped the gun. Hazlewood had no idea what was going on behind him. With a zillion cameras at the ground at all times watching every move, nobody is spared. It drew comparisons to a similar incident in the1990s when Ajay Jadeja was given out… well maybe not!