How the 10-day pause helped Australia open up India

Lyon’s masterful 8-for-Quells Pujara-led India

On the face of it, a 10-day break between the second and third Tests of Australia’s tour of India should have been an advantage for the home side.

The advantage of playing that series in their home country meant the Indians could leave Delhi not only with the exhilaration of retaining the Border Gavaskar Trophy in just five days of cricket, but with the added satisfaction of spending the days that followed sleep in their own beds.

The only Australian players able to do so were senior heads Pat Cummins and David Warner, one of whom (Warner) will not be returning this tour while the other (Cummins) also has no certainty.

The rest of the visiting team found themselves killing time. Some visited a golf resort, others spent time visiting tourist hotspots in Jaipur and Agra, while Steve Smith went to Dubai to spend time with his wife.

The initial unavailability of training facilities at Arun Jaitley Stadium – a stadium which would have forgiven the Australians for never wanting to set foot on it again after throwing away a shot at victory in their mad panic on Day Three – meant they not in the nets were inevitable.

But as the squad reassembled for two more days of training after a three-day hiatus, there was a subtle but renewed sense of determination.

Smith’s stunning leg slip ends Pujara’s stay

These few sessions proved helpful in a number of ways.

And they contributed to one of the biggest moments in the series for Australia.

A degenerative disc in Smith’s back was a factor in his puzzling streak of drop catches in the first two Tests, with the Slipper star admitting to wanting to protect his body by adopting an agile stance in the cordon, which had contributed to the valuable chances , to go begging .

“I’m still working hard on my fielding, I’m still catching a lot of balls in practice,” Smith said earlier this week. “As long as I’m doing the work and focusing on it, you can’t really blame anyone for doing that.”

In Delhi, Smith again pledged to remain deeper in his stance. Between tests, he then continued to refine his slipping technique by spending hours practicing a makeshift catch drill using a metal barricade normally used for traffic control and a pitch roll.

Smith trains with the makeshift setup //

It was no coincidence that Smith then made what was arguably the most important catch of his career to end an inning of Cheteshwar Pujara that looked set to snatch another Test from Australia.

“It was tremendous,” said Nathan Lyon, who threw the ball. innings wickets.

“It’s not disrespect to anyone else in this dressing room, but I don’t think anyone else will notice. That’s just me bowling from one end and looking up and seeing Steve Smith slipping or a leg slip and having this confidence as a bowler.

“Yeah, he dropped a few here and there, but I wouldn’t trade him for anyone.

“It shows the quality of the cricketer that when we train we see the different methods he develops to try to get better and improve. This is someone who has played 95 friendlies.

“Hats to Smithy, he did all the work. I’m not surprised but it was a massive moment to end the day strong.”

Only Smith could blindly take leg slip: Lyon

The return of captaincy to Smith in Cummins’ absence, combined with fresh strategic thinking developed during extra time between Tests, may also have played a role in Pujara’s sacking, which allowed Australia to advance into Day 3 only 76 runs go to victory.

The veteran right-hander, respected by the Aussies for his past successes, had to expect their three spinners to change angles of attack and fields frequently during his nearly four-hour hand.

The latest iteration of this constant tinkering saw him take on Lyon with just two men on the offside, with Smith going from slip to leg slip and putting three fielders straight on the side of the leg to clog his preferred method of getting on strike.

Smith holds incredible catch at leg slip // Getty

“When he bowled around the (wicket), his line changed a bit,” Pujara told the host broadcaster about Lyon. “He was trying to bowl a center and leg stump line instead of bowling on the off stump.

“I knew he was going to bowl at that line, but I just wanted to turn the shot. I had been getting singles by a square leg, but because of the slowness of the pitch, I wanted to hit that ball with a square leg.

“But it went into the leg gutter – and it was a brilliant catch from Smith too.”

Lyon insisted their tactics against Pujara were “not rocket science” – “just putting pressure on the other team”.

“We understand he has really good defense and can rotate the shot really well, so if we can just build up a couple of points hopefully we can create a chance,” said the 35-year-old, whose 8-64 marked second best numbers of his career.


Australia’s time out in Delhi allowed another bit of wisdom to be imparted.

As Lyon play their 118th Test, the task of Todd Murphy and Matthew Kuhnemann to face legendary duo Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in this series could hardly have been more daunting as the Australian pair had never played a Test before arriving in India.

Kuhnemann didn’t even get into the first tour group, while they weren’t their country team’s first pick of choice earlier this season.

Although both managed to keep their heads up after their performances in Delhi, some words of wisdom from Lyon ahead of the Indore test had a refocusing effect on the inexperienced duo.

They then linked up with Lyon to take all but two of India’s 20 wickets to fall in that Test.

Kuhnemann’s first test for five leads through India

“I spoke to Matt Kuhnemann and Todd Murphy earlier this week about making sure we own our own space and (remember) we’re not Ashwin and we’re not Jadeja,” Lyon said.

“We’re our own bowlers, we have our own careers, so we do it our own way.

“Yes we can learn from these guys – they are legends of the game and we are here in India so we can definitely learn from them.

“But we have to have that belief in our own abilities and I think that’s why I’m really proud of this group.

“There have been some honest conversations at different training simulations (in Delhi). The way we have put ourselves in this position, I’m really proud of this group.”

Frontier-Gavaskar Qantas Tour of India 2023

February 9-13: India won by innings and 132 carries

17-21 February: India won by six wickets

1st-5th March: Third Test, Indore, 3pm AEDT

March 9th to 13th: Fourth Test, Ahmedabad, 3pm AEDT

All matches will be broadcast live and exclusively on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports

Squad Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Matt Kuhnemann, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Lance Morris, Todd Murphy, Matthew Renshaw, Steve Smith (vc) , Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson

Squad India: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul (vc), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KS Bharat, Ishan Kishan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav , Suryakumar Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat How the 10-day pause helped Australia open up India

Russell Falcon

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