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WTC Final, Day 2: Smith, Head and bowlers put Australia in pole position against India

For the second straight day, Australia maintained their pole position in the World Test Championship final against India at The Oval. On Thursday, they posted 469 in first innings, thanks to Travis Head’s 163 and Steve Smith’s 121, his 31st Test hundred along with Alex Carey’s cameo of 48.

The potent Aussie bowling unit used fuller deliveries and bounce in the pitch to good effect to leave India on 151/5 in 38 overs at stumps, with Australia still leading by 318 runs. All of Australia’s five bowlers took a wicket each as India’s top four batters failed to pass the 15 run mark in front of accurate and relentless lines and lengths.

A 71-run partnership between Ajinkya Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja kept India afloat till off-spinner Nathan Lyon took the latter out 15 minutes away from stumps, as Australia dominated another day of proceedings in the marquee clash, as 12 wickets fell on day two, compared to three scalps picked on day one.

In the morning, India made a spirited fightback to bowl out Australia for 469, after they started their day from 327/3. A persistent Mohammed Siraj was the pick of bowlers with 4/108, also becoming the 42nd bowler from the country to scalp 50 wickets in Tests. Pacers Mohammed Shami and Shardul Thakur took two wickets each while Ravindra Jadeja had a scalp to his name.

Siraj didn’t have a rosy start as Smith flicked dazzlingly on his successive half-volleys to reach his ninth Test hundred against India and also his seventh century in England. On the other hand, Head reached 150 for the fourth time in his career with his trademark cut going for four off Shami.

Head was quick to pull short balls angled into him by Shami and Siraj for two boundaries. India’s tactic to bowl short to Head gave them success finally when he tried to shuffle across to use Siraj’s pace, but gloved the pull to KS Bharat, as the massive 285-run partnership for the fourth wicket came to an end.

One brought two for India as Cameron Green fell after nicking to second slip taking a sharp catch in front of his face off Shami. Four overs later, Smith chopped on his stumps off an outswinger from Shardul Thakur.

Amidst wickets falling, Carey found boundaries thrice, one of which came off a streaky inside edge. After Australia crossed 400-mark, Mitchell Starc was run-out while going for a quick single, thanks to substitute fielder Axar Patel’s sharp one-handed direct hit from mid-off.

In the second session, Carey clipped off Shami for four, before taking three boundaries off him — twice through leg-side and one past mid-off. He went on to launch Jadeja over long-on for six, taking Australia above 450.

But Jadeja bounced back immediately as Carey missed a straighter delivery on reverse-sweep and was trapped lbw, ending his 51-run stand with captain Pat Cummins for the eighth wicket. Siraj rattled Nathan Lyon’s off-stump to pick his 50th Test wicket and had Cummins caught at extra cover to end Australia’s innings in 121.3 overs.

In response, India made a positive start with Rohit Sharma pulling a short ball and squeezing a drive off Starc to take two fours. Shubman Gill played a glorious drive off Cummins through the gap for four on his first ball and went on to play a cracking pull over mid-on for another boundary.

Cummins bounced back by getting some inward movement to beat Rohit’s attempted clip and trap him plumb lbw. In the next over, Gill horribly misjudged a nip-backer from Scott Boland and saw the top of his off-stump being rattled without offering a shot.

Pujara started the final session with a lovely on-drive off Boland for four, followed by punching Green through off-side for another boundary. But Green bounced back as Pujara misjudged the line of the nip-backer coming in from outside off and saw the top of his off-stump being rattled.

Rahane, playing his first Test since January 2022, was off the mark by cutting a short and wide delivery off Boland over slip cordon for four, followed by pulling Cummins for four. Starc struck when he hit the pitch hard and got extra bounce to take the shoulder edge of Kohli’s bat and was caught at second slip.

Jadeja got going by driving past non-striker for four off Starc while Rahane brought out a pristine square drive off Cummins. Rahane was trapped lbw on 17 but replays showed Cummins had overstepped, giving him and India a huge sigh of relief, though later he took a blow on his thumb.

Jadeja continued to be fluent, driving and flicking off Starc for two boundaries. He followed it up by driving Green through mid-off for four more and flicked Boland extravagantly for six. Rahane played a lovely cover drive off Boland for four while Jadeja leaned into a drive off him as the duo brought up half-century of the partnership.

After steering past gully and getting a thick outside edge to take two fours off Starc, Jadeja fell when he lunged forward to defend against Lyon with hard hands, but the ball turned away to take the outside edge to slip. Rahane and KS Bharat, who took blows on elbow and chest, remained not out on 29 and 5 respectively to take India past 150 at stumps, on another day of Australian domination.

Brief Scores: Australia 469 in 121.3 overs (Travis Head 163, Steve Smith 121; Mohammed Siraj 4/108, Shardul Thakur 2/83) lead India 151/5 in 38 overs (Ravindra Jadeja 48, Ajinkya Rahane 29 not out; Nathan Lyon 1/4, Cameron Green 1/22) by 318 runs

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