A dazzling bowling performance from Australia’s quicks headlined an eventful day two of the World Test Championship final, with India staring down the barrel of a heavy defeat in London.
After Australia posted 469 in the first innings, including a 31st Test century for vice-captain Steve Smith, India’s top-order crumbled in a dramatic collapse of 4-41 before Ajinkya Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja steadied the ship in the evening session.
The Indians are 5-151 at stumps, still trailing Australia by 318 runs, with Rahane (29 not out) and wicketkeeper Srikar Bharat (5 not out) unbeaten overnight.
INDIA UNEARTHS POTENTIAL TRAVBALL WEAKNESS
Travis Head looked unstoppable in the first innings of the World Test Championship final at The Oval — until India’s bowlers discovered a potential weakness in the South Australian’s batting.
When the left-hander crossed into the nineties on Wednesday evening, Indian quicks Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami employed a short-ball strategy that immediately troubled the Australian No. 5.
Head looked vulnerable, especially when Siraj targeted his body. On 96, a well-directed Siraj bouncer struck him on the helmet, forcing a stoppage as team medics conducted a concussion assessment. The 29-year-old awkwardly fended at another bumper in self-defence, with the ball landing safely near short fine leg.
He survived the short-ball barrage, albeit bringing up his sixth Test century with a top-edged pull shot.
The bouncer strategy continued on Thursday morning, with Head miscuing a hook shot that fortuitously bisected two Indian fielders on the leg side. He was eventually dismissed by Siraj for 163 after walking across his crease and feathering a regulation catch through to wicketkeeper Srikar Bharat.
According to CricViz, Head played a false shot to 38 per cent of short-pitched balls at the body he faced in the first innings, while he was almost entirely unfazed by full and good length deliveries.
Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting suggested England may consider replicating the tactic in the upcoming Ashes series, potentially with speedster Mark Wood.
“We might see teams attack him with the short stuff early in his innings,” Ponting said on Channel 7.
“It wasn’t really until he was in the nineties that they went with a long-sustained barrage of short-ball bowling.
“At the moment, every time he’s coming out to bat, they’re pitching the ball up, they’re trying to nick him off. Guess what, that’s not working. It hasn’t worked for two years.”
BOLAND PRESSES CASE FOR NEW-BALL DUTIES
With the Kookaburra on Australia’s bouncy decks, Mitchell Starc is one of cricket’s most destructive opening bowlers — but Scott Boland has once again pushed his case for taking over the new-ball duties in England.
It seems inevitable that Boland will play at least two or three Ashes Tests this winter, with Australia poised to rotate their pace bowlers across the seven-week campaign.
The Victorian typically bowls first change when donning Test whites, with experienced teammates Starc and Pat Cummins opening the attack. But Australia might be tempted to throw Boland the fresh Dukes ball in the second innings of the World Test Championship final after his probing spell against India on Thursday.
Boland was introduced in the fifth over, replacing Starc after a wayward opening spell. The left-armer struggled with consistency, leaking 14 runs from two overs as Indian captain Rohit Sharma feasted on some loose bowling.
Meanwhile, Boland had the Dukes ball on a string, starting with two maidens including the crucial dismissal of Indian opener Shubman Gill. The 34-year-old repeatedly peppered a nagging length, expertly using the wobble-seam delivery against India’s right-handed batters.
“My first experience with a red ball here and felt it came out okay,” Boland told Test Match Special at stumps.
“Hopefully we can get into it tomorrow and knock them over.
“Nothing changes in my game-plan. I am trying to land the ball in a small box and not go away too far from that.”
According to CricViz, 56 per cent of Boland’s Test deliveries have been on a “good line and length”, the highest for any fast bowler since 2021.
“I think the angles he provides, his ability to hit the stumps from slightly shorter than some of our other bowlers, is a big plus,” Smith told reporters at stumps.
“If there’s any seam movement, it gives the ball more chance to move and still hit the stumps.
“The skills he possesses are magnificent. He’s turned up every time he’s had an opportunity. So whether he’s leaving any of the big three out, I don’t know the answer to that, but he’s certainly a quality prospect, as we’ve seen for a couple of years now.”
Kohli has no answer for Starc snorter | 00:37
Former Australia all-rounder Brendon Julian suggested that Starc, who didn’t unearth much swing on Thursday, would be better suited as Australia’s first-change bowler in England so he can exploit the Dukes ball.
“I wouldn’t necessarily open the bowling with Mitch Starc in England, purely because I don’t think the Dukes ball swings early,” Julian told Fox Cricket last month.
“I’d be happy with Hazlewood and Pat Cummins (opening). They’re seamers, and they’re going to bowl more stump-to-stump.
“When the lacquer gets off the ball and it starts to shape back in, that’s when I’d be throwing the ball to Mitch Starc as first change.”
Starc only played one Test in the 2019 Ashes, with national selectors favouring the Australian squad’s seam bowlers.
CAREY’S REVERSE SWEEP ADDICTION
Alex Carey is one of cricket’s best sweepers, but it might be time for the Australian gloveman to consider other options.
The South Australian copped backlash for his relentless use of the unorthodox shot during the recent Border-Gavaskar Trophy in India, where he averaged 9.33 with the bat.
Sweeping negates the threat of spin on the subcontinent’s turning wickets, but cross-bat shots are less effective in English conditions, particularly on day two when the pitch is best suited for batting. However, Carey once again turned to the reverse sweep at The Oval on Thursday afternoon, and it ultimately proved his downfall.
Having just bludgeoned Ravindra Jadeja over long on for six, the left-hander dropped onto one knee and looked to paddle the Indian spinner behind point, only to be struck on the pad.
Umpire Chris Gaffaney initially gave a not out verdict, but the on-field decision was overturned after Indian captain Rohit Sharma called for a review. Carey, Australia’s last recognised batter, returned to the sheds for 48, sparking a late collapse of 3-16.
According to CricViz, the 31-year-old has fallen victim to the reverse sweep in four of his seven most recent Test knocks, averaging 3.50 with the cross-bat shot this year.
Deja vu – sweep burns Carey again! | 00:57
Former Australian batter Matthew Hayden questioned why Carey risked the unorthodox stroke considering the lack of turn Jadeja was generating on Thursday.
“In India it was fiercely turning, really biting into the surface,” Hayden explained.
“But here where it’s straight on, stump to stump … Jadeja’s never going to do much different other than bowl within the line of the stumps.
“And when it’s not turning, you’re playing a cross-bat shot to a ball that’s going straight on.”
Former Indian coach Ravi Shastri agreed: “You’re more chance of getting away with it on a turner, as opposed to someone attacking the stumps and bowling full on a track where the ball isn’t turning much.”
SMITH DESTINED TO REPRISE ASHES HEROICS
Watch out, England.
Australian vice-captain Steve Smith looks destined to reprise his Ashes heroics from four years ago, continuing his love affair with Test cricket in England this week.
The 34-year-old brought up his seventh Test century in the United Kingdom on Thursday, scoring 121 in the first innings of the World Test Championship final against India to put Australia in a dominant position.
Only one touring cricketer has accumulated more Test centuries in England — Sir Donald Bradman.
Smith’s recent form with the bat in the United Kingdom is unrivalled, dismissed for under 80 just once in his past nine Test innings in England and averaging 111.87 during that period.
Since World World II, only twice cricketers have scored more Test runs in England at a higher average than the New South Welshman — Allan Border and Viv Richards.
“He talks about problem-solving with his batting,” Ponting said on Channel 7.
“He analyses how the opposition are going to bowl to him, he knows how they’re going to try and get him out. He knows how they’re going to try and stop him scoring, and then he formulates his own plan around that.
“He bats with no risk. When was the last time you saw Steve Smith take any risk?
“There’s no wide drives, he doesn’t play extravagant shots through the leg side. He doesn’t try and force hard off the back foot,
“He wears the bowlers down and puts the bad balls away. Pretty simple.”
Siraj cracks it after Smith’s 31st ton | 00:52
Smith also has a superb Test record at The Oval, where he made his maiden international century a decade ago, scoring three centuries in four matches with an average of 102.40 — no touring player in Test history has registered more tons at Kennington venue.
“I really like playing at The Oval, I think my record here is probably as good as anywhere in the world,” Smith told Channel 7 on Thursday.
“It’s a nice wicket to bat on, you get value for your shots here with the (wicket) square going the whole way across.”
Smith acclimatised to English conditions in the County Championship last month, playing three first-class matches for Sussex. Although the Australian No. 4 didn’t set the world alight during his four-week escapade, it was ideal preparation ahead of a gruelling six-Test tour of the United Kingdom.
“I love playing over here in England,” Smith continued.
“It’s a great place to play cricket. Hopefully the start of a nice summer for me.”
Awe & anguish – the many faces of Smudge | 00:41
‘HE’S STRUGGLED’: CUMMINS’ FRONT-FOOT DILEMMA
It was a near-perfect day for Australia’s bowlers in Kennington — that is, until Pat Cummins overstepped.
The Australian skipper, playing his first professional match since February, had a difficult time keeping his front foot behind the popping crease on Thursday afternoon, delivering three no-balls in his first seven overs.
His fourth could prove costly.
India was reeling at 4-87 in the 22nd over when Cummins trapped Ajinkya Rahane plumb LBW, with umpire Richard Illingworth immediately awarding the dismissal.
Rahane called for the DRS in a desperate Hail Mary, but the former Indian No. 5 was handed a reprieve after replays showed that Cummins had marginally overstepped.
The 30-year-old’s blunder shifted momentum in India’s favour, with Rahane and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja combining for a crucial 71-run partnership for the fifth wicket to revive the innings.
“Obviously that hurt,” Smith told reporters at stumps.
“No-balls are costly and you want your bowlers behind the line as much as possible.
“Jinx is still out there so yeah, no-balls are never good.”
Less than two hours into India’s knock, Cummins had already leaked the most no-balls of an innings in his international career.
“He’s struggled with his rhythm,” Harsha Bhogle said in commentary.
Rahane finished the day unbeaten on 29, having combined with Ravindra Jadeja for a 71-run partnership for the fifth wicket. Cummins’ misdemeanour may not have a drastic impact on the final result, but some speculated Australia’s reliance on net bowling ahead of the England tour could have contributed to the front-foot errors.
Tiny overstep costs Cummins dearly | 00:46