Australia build big lead despite India fightback on third day of WTC Final

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The third day of the ICC World Test Championship Final 2023 at The Oval saw an improved performance from India, but Australia finished well ahead with a 296-run lead at the close. After India had finished their first innings at 296, Australia were 123 for four at the end of the day's play. 

Placed at a precarious 151 for five at the start of the day, India were rocked early on when overnight batter KS Bharat fell to just the second ball of the day, bowled through the gate by Scott Boland. A gripping period of play followed as Ajinkya Rahane and Shardul Thakur duelled against the precision and bounce of the Australia attack.

The pair survived a number of close calls, including dropped catches and a dismissal overturn after Pat Cummins had overstepped, to keep India in the game. They gradually picked up the scoring rate and took runs off all five Australian bowlers. 

India added 109 runs at close to five an over in the first session. In this period, the returning Rahane crossed 5,000 runs in Test cricket after a year's absence from the side, becoming the 13th Indian player to achieve this landmark. 

Australia struck back after the lunch break. The very second over of play in the following session saw Cameron Green pull off a screamer at gully off the bowling of Cummins. Rahane (89) tried to manoeuver the ball behind the wicket and ended up getting a thick edge which flew to the right of Green, where the all-rounder leapt at it and grasped it with one hand.

This 109-run partnership was India’s second-best seventh wicket stand at The Oval.

One brought two, as Cummins cleaned up tailender Umesh Yadav for five. With only two wickets in hand, Thakur and Mohammed Shami decided to throw their arms at everything. This aggressive strategy brought up 23 runs from 16 balls, before the Mumbai all-rounder nicked a Green delivery behind the wicket. Thakur’s 51 was his third half-century in as many innings at The Oval.

India’s innings folded at 296 when Shami fell to Mitchell Starc in the 70th over. Pat Cummins was the pick of Australia's bowlers with 3/83. 

Led by the intensity of Mohammed Siraj, the India pacers were right on the mark in the third innings. Still, Australia managed to navigate through a tricky 11-over period before tea for the loss of only one wicket. 

Usman Khawaja's loose drive at a wide Umesh delivery brought India another success at the start of third session. First-innings centurion Steve Smith then joined forces with Marnus Labuschagne and further strengthened Australia's hold over the game with a sturdy 62-run partnership. 

But the steady stand was broken after Smith ended up gifting his wicket to Ravindra Jadeja. His hasty charge down the track ended in a leading edge, which skied towards the cover region and was pouched comfortably by Thakur.

The next batter, Travis Head, hit two risky sixes during his brief stay but eventually drove a ball back into the hands of Jadeja. Despite the wickets, Australia maintained a decent run rate of 2.79 through their innings. 

Come tomorrow, overnight batters Green and Labuschagne will look to extend Australia's advantage while India will look for early breakthroughs to ensure a large but achievable fourth-innings target. Play will start at 10h30 local time on Saturday morning with the forecast set largely fair.

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