Virat Kohli cemented his class on a difficult Perth wicket by registering his 25th Test century. However, he was let down by the lower order again. On a wicket which aided the pacers, it was Nathan Lyon’s offspin which fetched him not only his 14th five-wicket haul, but it gave Australia a vital 43-run lead. Usman Khawaja’s solid knock, despite the Indian pacers taking wickets at regular intervals, stretched the lead to 175 at the end of day 3 and with the pitch offering more variable bounce, a target in excess of 250 could prove to be very difficult for India to chase down in the fourth innings of this match.
Kohli’s knock was a class apart on a wicket where every batsmen never looked settled. The Australians started the day on the right note when Ajinkya Rahane, who had hit 51 and shared a partnership of 90 with Kohli, fell to Lyon for the eighth time with a ball that went straight on. But, Kohli was a different entity altogether. The Indian skipper was unperturbed by swing and bounce and moved confidently into the 90s. Australia took the second new ball as India chipped away steadily at the deficit.
The Indian skipper reached his landmark by driving Mitchell Starc to the long off fence to reach his sixth century in Australia, equalling Sachin Tendulkar’s mark. Although Hanuma Vihari (20) edged Hazlewood, Kohli was in the zone and Rishabh Pant looked to take the attack to the opposition. Kohli upper-cut Hazlewood for his first six and stroked a couple of neat boundaries off Starc. However, just before the lunch break, a moment occurred which turned the course of the match in Australia’s way.
Pat Cummins floated a full ball and Kohli played a loose drive. The edge flew low to second slip and Peter Handscomb tumbled to his right to take the catch. The third umpire was called to check whether the catch was clean and replays suggested that Handscomb had just managed to get his fingers underneath the ball. With Kohli gone for 123, Australia were galvanised. Lyon got Mohammed Shami for 0 and immediately after the break, he had Ishant Sharma (1) caught and bowled.
Australia get lead
With Australia’s tail up, Pant looked to take the attack but at the same time farm the strike. Umesh Yadav hung in for some time and the Delhi left-hander got the deficit down to under 50 by hammering Lyon for a boundary to deep midwicket and a huge six over long on that sailed into the second tier. However, in the quest for aggression, Pant holed out to long on and Jasprit Bumrah (4) edged to slip to give Lyon his seventh five-wicket haul against India. The tailenders could not emulate Australia as the last five wickets fell for 32 runs.
In response, Marcus Harris and Aaron Finch gave the side a great start with a 59-run stand for the opening wicket. Both batsmen were beaten regularly by the unrelenting line bowled by Bumrah and Ishant but they hung in. They benefited from some loose bowling from Shami and Umesh. Harris benefited from a dropped catch by Cheteshwar Pujara while Finch survived a catch with Pant not reacting quickly. Before the tea break, Shami got a short ball to climb on Finch and the batsman was hit on the right index finger, the same finger that was hit by Starc during preparation. Finch retired hurt and went to the hospital for scans.
In the final session, Australia suffered a jolt when Harris suffered a lapse in judgement. He left a full, straight ball angled in from round the wicket from Bumrah as the ball hit the top of off stump and the batsman departed for 20. Shaun Marsh (5), struggling to cope with the moving ball, underedged a short ball from Shami. Handscomb (13) struck three boundaries but was trapped plumb in front by a full ball from Ishant. With Australia effectively four down and the lead not much, Khawaja stepped up and blunted the Indian pace attack.
Khawaja got good support from Travis Head and they were helped by some low intensity bowling from the Indian pacers. The 45-run stand helped Australia’s lead past 150 but Shami had the last laugh when Head, for the second time in the match, upper-cut a short ball to hole out to the man at the third man fence. Tim Paine ensured there would be no further jolts. However, Khawaja’s knock and Lyon’s spell have given Australia a massive advantage and they would be hoping to set India in excess of 250 in order to level the series. Day 4 could very well decide where the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is headed.