PERTH: India expects captain Virat Kohli to continue to lead from the front after he guided their fightback on day two of the second Test against Australia here at Perth Stadium on Saturday.
At stumps, the visitors had overcome a terrible start and were 172 for three, still trailing the Australian first-innings total of 326 by 154 runs with seven wickets in hand.
The imperious Kohli was unbeaten on 82 and shaping as the major stumbling block for Australia, with Ajinkya Rahane also in fine form on 51, the pair having added 90 for the third wicket.
Paceman Ishant Sharma, who claimed four first innings wickets and will start the Australian second innings on a hat-trick, said the game was still evenly poised.
However, he believes Kohli is their trump card heading into day three.
“We feel pretty confident whenever he is batting,” he said of Kohli. “We finished the day in a strong position. It’s equal right now, hopefully we’ll win the first session tomorrow and turn the game in our favour.”
Australian batsman Usman Khawaja admitted Kohli was the prized wicket, but believed his team still held the upper hand.
“We’re still ahead of the game in a lot of respects,” Khawaja said. “Virat’s a good batsman, he respects good balls and tries to put away bad ones. It took them 70 overs to get 170, so I still think one or two wickets hopefully in the first session on Sunday will be pretty big for us.”
Up 1-0 in the four-Test series, India made a terrible start to their first innings after cleaning up the Australian tail in the morning session, before Kohli came to the rescue.
With the last ball before lunch, left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc found a gap between opener Murali Vijay’s bat and pad to send his stumps flying for a 12-ball duck.
Shortly after play resumed both openers were gone, with Josh Hazlewood getting through KL Rahul’s defences to bowl him for two with India slumping to eight for two on what appeared a tricky pitch on the first day.
However, Kohli looked comfortable from the moment he strode to the crease, a crisp on-drive from the second ball he faced from Hazlewood racing to the boundary.
His only real moment of concern came on 22, when he left a delivery from spinner Nathan Lyon and the ball just bounced over the bails.
Kohli faced 181 balls and hit nine fours, with a 25th Test century firmly in his sights on a wicket showing few of the devils of the first day.
Rahane hit six fours in 103 and had the honour of hitting the first Test match six at the new venue.
The stubborn Pujara offered strong support for Kohli initially, but fell in surprising fashion for 24, caught down the leg side by wicket-keeper Tim Paine from a wayward Starc (2-42) delivery.
Earlier, India had cleaned up the Australian tail with Sharma claiming 4-41.
At 310 for six, the home side were edging towards an imposing first-innings total after winning the toss and electing to bat.
But the Indians, who are out to win their first-ever series in Australia, struck back to claim the last four wickets for just 16 runs.
Australia resumed at 277 for six, with overnight batsmen Paine and Pat Cummins building a useful lower order partnership.
The pair put on 59 before Cummins (19) was clean bowled by a sharp delivery from Umesh Yadav (2-78) to end his 66-ball knock.
That sparked the Australian collapse, with Paine then trapped lbw by Jasprit Bumrah two balls later for 38.
Sharma claimed the wickets of Starc (6) and Josh Hazlewood (0) in successive balls to end the innings.
AUSTRALIA (1st Innings, overnight 277-6):
M.S. Harris c Rahane b Vihari 70
A.J. Finch lbw Bumrah 50
U.T. Khawaja c Pant b Yadav 5
S.E. Marsh c Rahane b Vihari 45
P.S.P. Handscomb c Kohli b Sharma 7
T.M. Head c Shami b Sharma 58
T.D. Paine lbw Bumrah 38
P.J. Cummins b Yadav 19
M.A. Starc c Pant b Sharma 6
N.M. Lyon not out 9
J.R. Hazlewood c Pant b Sharma 0
EXTRAS (B-4, LB-7, W-7, NB-1) 19
TOTAL (all out, 108.3 overs) 326
FALL OF WKTS: 1-112, 2-130, 3-134, 4-148, 5-232, 6-251, 7-310, 8-310, 9-326.
BOWLING: Sharma 20.3-7-41-4 (1nb); Bumrah 26-8-53-2; Yadav 23-3-78-2 (1w); Mohammed Shami 24-3-80-0 (2w); Vihari 14-1-53-2; Vijay 1-0-10-0.
INDIA (1st innings):
K.L. Rahul b Hazlewood 2
M. Vijay b Starc 0
C.A. Pujara c Paine b Starc 24
V. Kohli not out 82
A.M. Rahane not out 51
EXTRAS (LB-6, W-5, NB-2) 13
TOTAL (for three wkts, 69 overs) 172
FALL OF WKTS: 1-6, 2-8, 3-82.
TO BAT: G.H. Vihari, R.R. Pant, U.T. Yadav, Mohammed Shami, I. Sharma, J.J. Bumrah.
BOWLING (to-date): Starc 14-4-42-2 (2nb); Hazlewood 16-7-50-1; Cummins 17-3-40-0 (1w); Lyon 22-4-34-0.
Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2018