Australia v India :: Test 2 :: Tactics and Mind Games

At the end of day-3 of the 2nd Test between Australia and India, the game is delicately (delectably and mouth-wateringly, actually!) poised! India did themselves proud by staging a rousing rear-guard action to come back into the game after being down-and-out at one stage. Once again, this just goes to show what may have been had India planned better and spent more time acclimatising themselves to Australian conditions at the head of the tour! But all of that is history. India is 56 runs ahead. Australia have all their 2nd innings wickets in tact.

Rain could play spoil-sport in this game, but I am going to assume that all will be well and that we will still get 180 overs in the game — that is provided Australia do not put in yet another unruly bowling performance (in terms of over rates) that is so thoroughly unbecoming of the champion team in the game!

At this stage, at the end of 9 sessions in the game, although my own session-by-session (SBS) score reads India, 5 sessions :: Australia, 4 sessions, I think either team can win it.

Australia will want to win in order to keep their winning-streak in tact. Australia will try and play aggressively. India must hope that Australia plays arrogantly as it did in the Adelaide Test 4 years ago!

In order to win, Australia will try and score at a healthy run rate.

If Australia score at 4.5 runs an over (or more) tomorrow after a cautious first hour or so in which they should try and wipe out the deficit. They have the depth in batting to go for it.

If Australia bat for 80 overs tomorrow and score at 4.75 runs an over, they can make a score of 380 runs. If we remove the 56 runs that they are in arrears by, that would give them a lead of 324 — not enough for a declaration, I’d have thought, with 10 overs to go in the days’ play! This is where, Australia’s tactic of losing about 6-8 overs of bowling in the 3rd days’ play — through a tragically slow over rate — was all the more befuddling! If Australia were hell bent on going for that winning streak, they went about it in a strange way today! It was in their interest to bowl their overs much faster than they did!

A shot at victory would mean that Australia would have to score at about 5.2 runs an over tomorrow — and this will come with all of the concommitant risks of such a strategy! If Australia do score at 5.2 an over, in 80 overs, Australia would reach a score of 416. Removing the 56 runs deficit, that would leave India a target of 360 in about 97 overs of batting. This would be a juicy target for India to go after and that is Australia’s best chance of winning this game on a 5th day pitch that could assist the spinners.

For India, the equation is a bit simpler. They would be just as hungry to win here in Sydney. Their chances of surviving (leave alone winning) in Perth are remote and, all pointers are to a big loss there. They would want to win this Test to give them the confidence before the Perth Test. At the very worst, they would want to draw this Test match. India should, in all probability, attack hard and aim for a victory too.

From a tactical point of view, India is in the drivers’ seat at the moment. If they leak runs in the first session, or if they hardly look like taking a wicket, they can use Harbhajan Singh to spear them in (as he does in Twenty20 games) or Yuvraj Singh to bowl a negative line outside leg stump in a bid to frustrate the Australians. Or better still, they could bowl their overs as slowly as the Australians did/do!

However, everything would depend on whether or not the Indians get a few early wickets in the 4th days’ play. If they do, we could see a very absorbing days’ play. If they do not, we can expect some special Australian fireworks!

Either way, this is going to be, as Brett Lee and Ravi Shastri say, a cracker of a finish to this Test match. All of the above posturing is on the assumption, of course, that rain does not spoil the party!

— Mohan

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