Australia hold sway as solid bowling backs up strong total on second day of the WTC Final

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The second day of the ICC World Test Championship 2023 Final at The Oval saw Australia follow a commanding batting display with a top-notch bowling effort. At the end of the day's play, India were placed at 151/5 in response to Australia's 469.

Beginning at the overnight total of 327/3, the Australia pair of Steve Smith and Travis Head continued in the same belligerent tone that had exemplified yesterday’s final session. Smith struck back-to-back fours in the very first over to bring up his 31st Test hundred. With nine Test tons against India, Smith is now tied with Joe Root as the joint-highest century scorer against the Asian side in the format. 

The duo looked like they were about to take another session away from India, scoring 34 from merely 36 balls at the start of play, before Head (163) nudged a short ball from Mohammed Siraj to the keeper. The pair’s stand of 285 runs, the most successful fourth-wicket stand at The Oval, had laid a strong platform for Australia to build on. 

However, India’s pacers got their act together after the first half hour and bowled probing lengths with much success. Mohammed Shami had Cameron Green caught at second slip, while Shardul Thakur bowled Smith (120) off the very first ball of his spell.

Mitchell Starc’s fallacious judgement cost Australia their seventh wicket in the 104th over when he left-hander decided to take on the sprightly Axar Patel at mid-off, and ended up running himself out. 

Despite losing four wickets in the session, the batting side went at nearly four an over and crossed the total of 400 in the process. 

The first hour post-lunch saw the Australia tail wag and frustrate Rohit Sharma’s men. Alex Carey’s 48 helped the side finish at 469. Siraj was the pick of India’s bowlers with his 4/108. The pacer also achieved the landmark of 50 Test wickets when he bowled Nathan Lyon. 

In response, India openers started with positive intent. Unleashing a mix of pulls and drives, the batters added 30 quick runs.

Australia struck back when they removed India skipper Rohit, who was trapped leg before by his opposite number, Pat Cummins. And in the very next over Shubman Gill left an incoming Scott Boland delivery, which crashed into his off stump. These two quick losses forced India towards a more watchful approach and they finished the session at 37/2.

Hostile and incisive bowling from Australia ensured that there was little respite for the batters in the final session as well.

India's number three, Cheteshwar Pujara, fell in an identical fashion to Gill, leaving a Cameron Green delivery that came in. Another blow came at the score of 71, when Virat Kohli was bested by an accurate Mitchell Starc bouncer.

The fifth-wicket stand between comeback man Ajinkya Rahane (29 not out) and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja (48) restored a semblance of order to the India innings. The 71-run partnership was the blend of Rahane's patience and Jadeja's assertiveness, but he stand was finally broken when a Nathan Lyon turner accounted for Jadeja. 

Having lost half their side while still being 318 runs adrift of Australia's total, India will have a tall task going into the third day of the WTC final. The play will start at 10:30 local time on Friday morning.

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