India find themselves in a precarious position, facing a formidable challenge to salvage the match on just the second day of the highly anticipated World Test Championship Final at the Oval. Their decision to bat second after winning the toss proved costly, compounded by a disappointing top-order batting collapse.
The opening partnership of Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill initially showed promise, but Sharma fell victim to an incoming delivery, dismissed leg before wicket by Pat Cummins. Gill, facing Scott Boland for the first time, made the ill-fated choice to leave a ball that swung in, resulting in his dismissal.
Cheteshwar Pujara, who had recently shared a dressing room with Steve Smith while playing for Sussex, committed a similar error against Cameron Green. Virat Kohli, facing an otherwise expensive Mitchell Starc, was caught off guard by a throat-high bouncer, a delivery he may have successfully avoided in his prime.
India made to rue decisions
Ravindra Jadeja provided a glimmer of hope with his counter-attacking style, even hitting a six off Boland. However, his dismissal, just two runs short of a half-century, to a delivery with a turn and bounce from Nathan Lyon underscored the mistake of not including Ravichandran Ashwin in the playing XI.
By opting to field first after winning the toss, India inadvertently granted Australia more favorable batting conditions. With the opposition amassing a total of 469 runs, India's decision had clearly backfired. Furthermore, the Indian team failed to recognise the ICC's commitment to preparing a durable wicket for the tournament's finale, as a prematurely ending match would undermine the reputation of Test cricket.
Misreading conditions proves costly
The sight of a grassy wicket before the toss had unsettled the Indian players, leading them to hesitate in choosing to bat first. However, they failed to consider that the grass cover was intentionally retained to bind the track and ensure its longevity. Consequently, on the second morning, the pitch appeared less grassy, and India's bowlers struggled to replicate their success from the previous day, when conditions favoured them.
Mohammed Shami encountered difficulties as his deliveries lost pace before reaching the wicketkeeper, while Mohammed Siraj proved more lively, generating thudding deliveries. Siraj emerged as the most potent Indian bowler, claiming four wickets, including that of centurion Travis Head, who gloved a hook to the impressive wicketkeeper, K.S. Bharat.
Interestingly, the left-arm spinner Jadeja proved to be the most economical bowler for India, further highlighting the team's mistake in excluding Ashwin from the playing XI. His absence was a missed opportunity to add balance and variety to the Indian bowling attack.
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