Australia still on top but Rahane and Thakur lead India's resistance

Steven Smith knew he was in trouble right after miscuing a swipe across the line
June 09, 2023

Australia 123 for 4 (Labuschagne 41*, Jadeja 2-25) and 469 lead India 296 (Rahane 89, Shardul 51, Cummins 3-83) by 296 runs

India hung in admirably on the third day of the WTC final through fighting runs from Ajinkya Rahane and Shardul Thakur and a better bowling effort than in the first innings, but by the end of the day it was apparent they had lost too much ground on the first two days. They began the day 318 behind with half their side gone, took body blows to somehow reduce the deficit to 173, but ended the day 296 behind with six Australian wickets still standing.

India began each session of the day knowing the best they could do was stay alive. They managed to not get blown away, but in the long, final session, Australia progressed steadily to leave India somewhere between just alive and out of the game.

Scott Boland began metronomically and snuck past KS Bharat's inside edge to bowl him second ball of the day. Pat Cummins and Boland then proceeded to torture the two batters, Rahane and Thakur, with uneven bounce out of the pitch. For the best part of the first hour, they were relentless and quick. Thakur was forced to take a painkiller and wear padding on both his forearms.

However, it was still not a perfect display in the field from Australia. Cummins ended up with six no-balls with wickets off three of them. Following Ravindra Jadeja and Rahane on day two, he missed out on Thakur's wicket on day three. Three catches went down in the slip cordon. Mitchell Starc struggled for control.

Once they saw off the threat of Cummins and Boland, Rahane and Thakur began to score freely. By lunch, Rahane was 11 short of what would have been a special century on Test comeback, and Thakur 14 short of a third fifty in three innings at The Oval. The 60-over-old ball had stopped misbehaving by now, and India had a good shout at cutting down the 209-run deficit significantly before the second new ball.

Post lunch, though, Rahane followed a widish delivery and edged it only for Cameron Green to pull off a spectacular catch at gully. The next three wickets could add just 35, though Thakur did manage to get to his half-century.

India bowled with better control than they did in the first innings. Mohammed Siraj, in particular, extracted uneven bounce after nicking David Warner off early. Twice the bat fell out of Marnus Labuschagne's hands on impact, much like it had done earlier with Thakur. Once he was swept off his feet. Umesh Yadav benefited from the pressure created with his first wicket of the match as Usman Khawaja wafted at a wide delivery.

At 24 for 2, India would have hoped for further inroads, especially with Labuschagne struggling, but Steven Smith played a breezy knock to push India back. Having set himself up for a long dig in the first innings, Smith now looked for quick runs, racing away to 12 off his first seven balls. India's second string of quicks now bowled with spread-out fields as Smith looked set for a big, effortless knock.

Then Smith tried to charge Jadeja for the third time in the Test. On the first two occasions, in the first innings, he managed to get enough of a half-hit to avoid mid-off, but this time there was enough grip from the surface to take the edge for point to take the catch. To get Smith out for just 34 when he was batting at a control rate of above 90% was a relief for India.

Jadeja then used the rough outside the left-hand batter's off stump to get rid of Travis Head. Labuschagne, standing well outside the crease to face the India quicks, never really looked in control. He ended the day 41 off 118 but, along with Green, he denied India any further success. To their credit, India didn't allow them easy runs, going at well under three an over.

It was half the job done for Australia, who would want to give their fast bowlers at least 24 hours with their feet up before they begin their final push for the title.

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