Day Three: Brilliance of Sundar and Thakur opens up the Test

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16 Jan 2021 | 11:41 PM
authorSomesh Agarwal

Day Three: Brilliance of Sundar and Thakur opens up the Test

Playing their first and second innings in Test cricket respectively, the duo hit a half-century each to raise a 123-run stand

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"Look, I love bowling more overs. Even if it is 30, 40, 50 overs, I wouldn't mind". This was Washington Sundar after the first day. 

He failed to mention that he loves batting as much. In his debut innings, he was in the middle for 58.3 overs and did not once look like a batsman with no first-class game to his name in three years. 

India continued to find help from unexpected places in this series. Sundar, along with Shardul Thakur, took India from a dreary position of 186/6 to a first innings total of 336. 

Right from the start, Sundar drove Josh Hazlewood past cover, flicked Mitchell Starc and punched him down the ground. He got well behind line of the ball while defending and ducked well on bouncers. 

Thakur's first scoring shot was a hook for a six over fine leg to Pat Cummins. Three balls later, he crunched the first of the two authoritative cover drives he played in his knock.

When the second new ball came along, helped by glances, inside edges and piercing gaps in the cordon, the pair raised a half-century stand. India's only one in the innings. Once the stand reached 59*, it became India's best-ever for the seventh-wicket at the Gabba.

Continuing the start he had before tea, Thakur bettered himself after every boundary he hit off Starc. The first one was a gentle push to covers to a half-volley. When Starc pulled his length back two balls later, Thakur rose by lifting his left foot in the air and lofted the ball to the point boundary. In Starc's next over, Thakur smashed another cover drive and completed the boundary trilogy with authority. 

Throughout his innings, Thakur was itching to get down the track to Lyon and deposit him into the sands. Playing the situation well, he chose to keep defending him instead. He went for his heart's wish when on 47 to reach a chanceless half-century.

As it often happens, the ball stopped moving and the pitch looked flat when there was a counter-attack. This was until Cummins and his habit of hitting the top of off made one nip back to Thakur to break the 123-run stand. But not before the pair had sent jitters across the Aussie dressing room.

Sundar was the epitome of calmness. Unfazed by Thakur's aggression, he kept playing on merit. Even when most of his attacking drives to Lyon did not pierce the gap on the offside, he remained unaffected. Having experienced his authority to balls pitched up, the Aussie pacers pulled their length back to him, but to no avail. He kept salami-slicing the deficit by hitting the ball in the gaps. Once Thakur was dismissed, he expanded his array of shots, hitting a no-look six, way over the long-on fence.

It took Cameron Green's brilliance at gully to dismiss him. Attempting a ramp, Sundar failed to get enough elevation. A back of a length ball and a slower ball earned Hazlewood a five-for and ended India's innings. This was not before the deficit was reduced to 33, the difference on the first innings being the least between the sides in the series. 

When the duo got together, repeating the courage India demonstrated since Adelaide seemed a bridge too far. Letting them down was the experienced players, who gifted their wickets away to loose shots. 

Starc started the morning from around the wicket, with the field set for the bouncer but hope set for getting some outswing. He moved back to over the wicket to Ajinkya Rahane in the next over. Though he neither had any swing back into the right-hander nor his pace as high as he is capable of, he induced two drives from India's skipper in consecutive overs. Starting off with a Rohit Sharmaesque approach from the day before, Rahane went for two drives on full balls outside off. Both flew past the gap between third slip and gully. These were the only opportunities Australia had for the first hour. 

Fortunes turned for Starc 23 overs later while he was into his second spell.  The ball was wide again, Rahane chased it again. This time the third slip was where the fourth slip is and the fielder made no mistake.

Mayank Agarwal looked comfortable in his new role against the older ball. He ducked well to the short ball and was crisp with his drives. Having survived long enough to face Nathan Lyon for the first time this series, he moved forward India's overall plan to attack him. Despite a long-on in place, Mayank came down the ground to clear the shorter straight boundaries with ease.

Then, the second ball after lunch, bowled at a length with not much room by Hazlewood produced an ugly shot. Stuck on his crease, Mayank went for the drive. Steve Smith at second slip juggled but held on to the chance on the second attempt. Another batsman threw away a decent start.

While he lasted, Rishabh Pant looked good. He was brisk as always, driving the full balls and cutting them past gully if short. The ball that got him out was shorter than the ones he cuts with ease. Pant chose to play a belated ramp. The ball travelled quickly to gully where Green used his bucket-sized right palm to let the ball stick. In the first 10 overs he bowled this morning, Hazlewood gave away only 19 runs while taking three of the four wickets to fall.

Earlier in the day, as the Aussie pacers have done all series, Hazlewood produced a gem, bowled from wide of the crease, making Pujara play around his off stump. It left him just enough to get the outside edge. Bowling peaches have been the only way to conquer fort Pujara this series.  

But, as has been the case all series, the game refused to move considerably into either direction. The two players, batting for the first and second time ever in Tests, swung the dynamics of Test back in the balance. 

After the first day, Sundar was jubilant when he expressed his desire to play as many games for India as possible irrespective of it being with "pink ball, red ball or white ball". It is this hunger in each player who has walked into the XI that has made this one of the most memorable series in recent years.

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IndiaAustraliaIndia tour of Australia, 2020/21Australia vs India - 4th Test - Border-Gavaskar Trophy, 2020/21Washington SundarShardul Narendra ThakurJosh Reginald Hazlewood

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