Australia took a firm grip on the ICC World Test Championship Final after an intriguing second day’s play against India at The Oval.
The Australian attack got stuck into India’s top order to leave Rohit Sharma’s side five down and still trailing by 318 runs at the close on Thursday, removing most of the positive momentum India had garnered from taking 7/142 in a much-improved bowling display.
Shubman Gill got off the mark with a glorious cover drive in reply to Australia’s first-innings total of 469, while Rohit made a fast start at the other end, with his every shot cheered to the rafters by a large Indian contingent in the stands.
But both openers were back in the hutch before tea.
Pat Cummins trapped his opposite number in front for 15, and Scott Boland – brought on after just two Mitchell Starc overs – bagged what could be his first of many in this English summer to remove India’s star youngster.
The 34-year-old Boland sent one angling in to Gill, who attempted a leave only to be caught out by further movement off the seam that sent the ball cannoning into the top of off-stump.
A perplexed Gill departed as Virat Kohli strode past him to the crease, and the crowd favourite survived the remainder of the session alongside Cheteshwar Pujara.
It took fewer than four overs of the final session for Australia to pick up another wicket, and it was a near carbon copy of Gill’s dismissal as Pujara left a beauty from Cameron Green that dipped back in and took the off stump.
If Gill was stunned, Pujara was furious, swinging his bat in frustration at the error in judgement as Australia’s all-rounder celebrated his first Test wicket in England.
And Kohli’s time in the middle came to an abrupt end when Mitchell Starc, who bowled a bag of all sorts on the day, found a golden delivery that lifted from short of a length into the body of Kohli that he could do little with other than fend it off the splice to the slips.
All of India’s top four reached double figures, but none passed 15 as the quality of Australia’s attack won out.
Ravindra Jadeja sparked a bit of a counterattack to give the India fans something to cheer about, with the pair adding 71 runs before the all-rounder was caught at slip off Nathan Lyon for a 51-ball 48.
Lyon’s breakthrough meant that the five wickets to fall were shared evenly between Australia’s five-man attack in a consummate team display.
Earlier, India’s quick bowlers had hit back superbly with the ball after a disappointing first day, dismissing centurions Travis Head and Steve Smith before lunch and taking 7/142 on the day to bowl Australia out for 469.
Smith had resumed on 95* and brought up his century off the third ball of the day, clipping the first two deliveries he faced to the leg-side boundary.
And the Smith and Head pairing also passed the previous highest for a fourth-wicket stand in Tests at The Oval inside the opening 15 minutes of play as Australia got off to an excellent start.
With the sun shining bright in south London it looked ominous for India’s bowling attack as Head brought up his 150.
But the second new ball still had plenty of life in it, and the quartet of pacer bowlers turned the momentum in India's favour with some excellent spells throughout the morning session.
It was a fired-up Mohammed Siraj who made the first breakthrough, tucking Head up with a ball that rose into his body and caught a glove through to the keeper, with the top-scorer departing for 163.
And Mohammed Shami soon made it two wickets in the session when Green (6) edged a lovely delivery through to the slips where it was well held by Gill.
Shami and Siraj both bowled beautifully in the opening hour, but it was the change bowlers in India’s much-discussed four-man pace unit who kept the momentum going after drinks.
With Umesh Yadav bowling with pace and aggression at the pavilion end, Shardul Thakur came in from the other and got the scalp that India desperately wanted, with a tempter catching the inside edge of Smith’s bat to direct the ball onto the stumps.
Smith departed to a standing ovation for his 128 – a ninth Test century against India and his 31st overall – and his wicket put further wind in India’s sails as they went in search of more scalps before lunch.
Starc was the next Aussie to depart, run out superbly by the substitute fielder Axar Patel after attempting an extremely optimistic quick single.
And, after a flurry from Alex Carey (48 from 60), India got back in the wicket-taking swing of things, with Jadeja trapping Carey in front before Siraj rattled the stumps of Lyon and had Cummins caught at extra-cover to finish with 4/108.
India had needed wickets and plenty of them early in the second day, and they got exactly that with their excellent bowling display.
But the hope was short-lived, as the Aussie attack stepped the quality up yet further to leave this World Test Championship Final firmly in Australia’s grip.
India will resume on 151/5 with KS Bharat and Ajinkya Rahane on 5* and 29* respectively.