Domain Tests v India
Lyon pounces at dusk to claim Kohli scalp
Aussie spinner extends his record against India captain with a record sixth dismissal
Andrew Ramsey at the Adelaide Oval
8 December 2018, 11:00 PM AEST
As was the case not 48 hours earlier, India's Cheteshwar Pujara looms as the key character as the intrigue of the opening Domain Series Test against Australia snakes its way towards denouement.
India finished day three 3-151 and holding a lead of 166 overall, though it is Pujara's unbeaten 40 in the wake of his heroic first-innings century that shone as bright as the Adelaide Oval floodlights that burned for much of the afternoon.
Pujara has cast an imposing shadow across this match, even through Adelaide's Saturday gloom, as the only batter – with the honorary exception of Australia's Travis Head – to master a surface that has challenged the best.
Including the game's top-ranked batter, and captain of the No.1 team, Virat Kohli who was dismissed for 34 late in the day having looked in menacingly confident touch before squeezing a catch to short-leg from Nathan Lyon's sharp spin.
A triumphant moment for the Australians who fought bravely in the face of a couple of umpiring disappointments, but one tinged with wariness given the encouragement that India's star spinner Ravi Ashwin will surely find from the pitch in coming days.
With sunny conditions forecast for much of the remaining two days, Australia will require quick wickets upon tomorrow's resumption to restrict a fourth-innings chase that already looms as daunting.
Particularly in light of the savage lift that Australia seamers Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins extracted at times from the northern end, where the India quicks are expected to operate in formation while Ashwin operates tirelessly from the south.
On a pitch that has made good the recent mantra of cricket officialdom the world over by providing a genuine contest between ball and bat, the difference between the teams across the first half of the Test was negligible.
Indeed, as the scorecard confirms, it could be empirically measured as the 15-run advantage that India took into their second innings.
However, from the moment that batting effort was delayed to Australia's disgruntlement, the balance has swung increasingly in favour of the history chasing visitors.
The early incisions that Australia would have fancied with the new ball, given the bowler friendly conditions and the woes of the respective top-orders in the Test to date, were stymied by India's openers who fashioned a game-high partnership of 63.
That ensured India had stretched their lead towards 100 by the time Murali Vijay (who battled for his 18 from 53 balls) and Lokesh Rahul (more assured in scoring 44 from 67) adhered to the game's template by edging catches behind the wicket.
Then came a couple of pivotal moments that spoke at volume about the relative fortunes the two teams have enjoyed of late.
Australia – so desperately chasing the breakthrough Test win that has eluded them since events in South Africa early this year – twice had reason to celebrate the removal of Pujara, who has outshone every other batter in the match to date.
But both times the best-performed player in the world's top-ranked team challenged the on-field decisions and was twice rewarded with overrules upon study of the technical evidence.
The first reprieve was delivered when the 30-year-old had scored eight, and was adjudged caught at the wicket by umpire Nigel Llong from the bowling of Lyon, who did not appear overly convinced an edge had been found.
That assessment proved correct, as no corroborating proof could be found to uphold Long's ruling, and Pujara was freed to continue batting.
He had done so, and lifted his score to 17 when he skipped down the pitch to negate Lyon's spin but found himself tricked by the ball's flight and half-tucked his bat behind as pad as Llong once more agreed with the Australians' appeal.
After receiving a vehement nod from Kohli to proceed to review, Pujara looked to have outridden his luck when slow-motion footage revealed impact midway up his front leg in front of his stumps.
Only for the ball-tracking wizardry to pronounce that delivery's trajectory would have carried it over the middle-and-leg bail.
It proved the final chance for a further 18 overs as Pujara and Kohli fashioned a third-wicket union that surpassed the opening stand, and had India irrefutably ascendant until Kohli fell.
After two days of unrelenting heat and desiccating north winds, Adelaide proved its weather can be as unreliable as its train network as heavy clouds slid slowly through from the west and dumped rain that accounted for all but 18 minutes of the morning session.
That truncated period proved far brighter than the accompanying ambience, and yielded thirteen runs at a rate unprecedented across the first two days of more than three per over even though India's seamers were armed with a virtually new ball in England-like conditions.
The mizzle that may or may not have contributed to Mitchell Starc's dismissal – caught behind upon nicking an extravagant drive with feet as leaden as the sky – heralded another suspension of play that stretched almost an hour.
When Australia's penultimate pair resumed after the break, their urgency only increased mostly due to the crisp striking of Lyon whose 28-ball unbeaten innings of 24 included two boundaries and a memorable six.
The crowning blow being a swivel-hook shot from a Mohammad Shami bouncer that was so clinically elegant in its execution it could have been lifted from the repertoire of either of the Chappell brothers, at the base of whose namesake grandstand the ball eventually came to rest.
Given that, in a previous life, Lyon had pursued his former trade as a greenkeeper on the Adelaide Oval pitch, it should have brought little surprise that he appeared as au fait with the Test track's vagaries as any of the specialist batters to have preceded him.
But the whispered expectation among a patient crowd of around 30,000 that perhaps he could endure for long enough to see the true local hero, South Australia skipper Travis Head, to a maiden Test ton were quelled as the light rain set in once more.
Head's resolute 72 had contained few false strokes, and its raw value could be gleaned by weighing it against other contributions to both teams' first innings.
In which only he and India's century-maker Cheteshwar Pujara had reached 50.
Yet the 24-year-old's disappointment at not matching Pujara's output was demonstrable from the instant his attempted off-glance brushed his bat's face on the way through to India keeper, Rishabh Pant.
Without lifting his eyes, Head began his retreat to the dressing room almost before the ball had nestled in Pant's gloves and several steps into his walk he slammed his bat into his left pad to air frustration at his lapse.
Those pads would scarcely have been removed before Australia's innings was done, Hazlewood pouched as the India keeper's third catch of the day (and sixth of the innings) from the only delivery he faced.
Thereby ensuring that Shami is poised for a hat-trick when Australia bat again.
Head's self-inflicted annoyance then spread to others in his team as Australia went through their warm-ups ahead of the tricky eight minutes or so India's openers would be facing in the dank conditions prior to lunch.
When the umpires ruled the drizzle through which Australia had at times batted, and in the face of which their final three wickets had toppled, that irritation was duly expressed.
But it brought no change of heart from the officials, and by the time day three ended in soft summer sunshine, Australia's hopes of snapping their recent run of Test heartache appeared similarly forlorn.
Australia XI: Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c,wk), Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
India XI: KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma
Domain Test Series v India
Dec 6-10: First Test, Adelaide Oval
Dec 14-18: Second Test, Perth Stadium
Dec 26-30: Third Test, MCG
Jan 3-7: Fourth Test, SCG
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c, wk), Josh Hazlewood (vc), Mitch Marsh (vc), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Chris Tremain
India squad: Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Parthiv Patel (wk), Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar