Goswami, Vastrakar put India on top as pink-ball Test heads towards draw

Team India celebrates a wicket. © Getty

Relentless control from pacers Jhulan Goswami and Pooja Vastrakar, after Deepti Sharma’s half-century with the bat, has put India in a commendable position in the pink-ball Test against Australia on day three (October 2) at the Carrara Oval.

It was Goswami’s second spell. Australia were going strong at 63 for one after 22 overs, with Meg Lanning and Alyssa Healy building a partnership. The 38-year-old  was coming back after bowling six overs with the new ball. Her first ball was a back-of-a-length delivery that Healy tried to pull but under-edged and it bounced towards Tania Bhatia. The second was an inswinger on the good length that went between the bat and pad of the opener. She followed it up with a sharp bouncer that hit the wicketkeeper-batter, who tried to hook, on the shoulder. Healy took a moment to gather herself, came back and took guard.

It was a thrilling contest between one of the most aggressive batter and an experienced pacer. The build-up was set perfectly for an outswinger. A quality player like Healy would have anticipated it, but Goswami had planted seeds of doubts in her head by beating the inside edge twice before pushing the batter on to the back foot with the short-pitched delivery. 

Test cricket is as much a mental battle as it is physical, and that’s the game Goswami was playing. She delivered an outswinger that pitched on the money and moved a tad bit away from Healy, who at this point wasn’t sure whether to go forward or backwards, taking the outside edge on its way to Bhatia’s gloves. India’s spearhead once broke the partnership, once again, just before the Tea break.

With Gayakwad from the other end, Jhulan continued to bowl after the break, and the experienced duo managed to keep Lanning and Ellyse Perry, who is yet to be dismissed in a pink-ball Test, quiet. In the first five overs, they gave away just eight runs. Sharma and Vastrakar took it from there, bowling tight-lines to a packed off-side field. The off-spinner bowled three consecutive maidens, while the later hit Lanning on her pads and was adjudged LBW by the umpire for 38 runs from 78 balls.

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Tahlia McGrath and Perry dropped anchor and hung in there, not allowing the dot balls to affect their concentration. In the 47 balls since Lanning’s dismissal, they added just seven runs. McGrath broke the shackles eventually, hitting boundaries off Gayakwad and Vastrakar. When Sharma came on to bowl, McGrath drove down the ground and hit her through the covers. Vastrakar struck, once again, as McGrath hit the allrounder straight into the hands of Smriti Mandhana at backward-point.

Ashleigh Gardner walked in at six to join Perry, the allrounders negotiated another spell from Goswami and Meghna Singh cautiously, taking Australia to the end of day’s play. They finished with 143 for four in 60 overs with Perry batting on 27 runs from 98 balls and Gardner giving her company on 13 from 34 deliveries.

For India, Goswami was the pick of the bowlers with two wickets for 27 runs in her 14 overs, while Vastrakar took two for 31.

Earlier, starting the day on 275 for five, Sharma and Bhatia negotiated Gardner and Perry cautiously. Australia missed a chance when they did not appeal for a yorker from Perry that India wicket-keeper had to dig out, which later was found out to have hit the pads first. Sharma also survived some anxious moments when another outside edge fell short of Healy.

However, the duo was comfortable against Gardner, with Bhatia making the most of the slightest width the off-spinner offered. Whenever the ball was a tad short, the wicketkeeper-batter rocked onto her back foot and guided it through the gully region. Sharma, too, took on Gardner with a slog-sweep  as India went past the 300-run mark. 

Lanning, once again, resorted to run controlling tactics, with Sophie Molineux and Annabel Sutherland bowling in tandem. Sharma edged both the bowlers once, but Lanning could not hold on to those tough chances. The pressure built by Sutherland and Molineux paid dividends as Bhatia pushed at a back-of-a-length delivery from Campbell, and Healy completed the catch.

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Sharma kept the innings going alongside Vastrakar, bringing up her second consecutive Test fifty. India had added 83 runs at the cost of just one wicket. Lanning brought on Perry for just one over before dinner, and the veteran allrounder delivered with the wicket of the right-hander, who tried to drive Perry through the cover and edged it to the slip cordon where Beth Mooney completed a one-handed blinder. 

In the second session, India came out with attacking intent as Sharma smashed back-to-back boundaries off Campbell. The teenage speedster had the last laugh as the southpaw was trapped on the pads by a short-of-length delivery and was adjudged LBW for 66 off 167 balls. India added seven more runs to their total before declaring at 377 for eight in 145 overs. 

Healy, who had kept wickets for 145 overs, walked out to bat with Mooney. She started the innings with a gorgeous cover drive of Goswami. The Indian seamers were trying to pitch the ball up and swing it under the lights. Whenever they erred on the fuller side, Healy latched on it, driving them through the off-side.

When it seemed like the Australians were getting off to a flying start, Goswami bowled a brilliant inswinger to Mooney that went through the gap between the bat and the pad, clipping the top of her leg-stump. Joined by Lanning, Healy tried to keep the scorecard moving with quick singles. They capitalised on the slightest margin of errors, putting them away for boundaries. 

Mithali Raj had to bring in Gayakwad to gain some control. The left-arm spinner bowled tight stump-to-stump lines, not giving away any free deliveries. She gave away just 13 runs in her first five overs. The pressure built by the spinner led to Lanning edging Vastrakar, but Sharma dropped a regulation catch at gully. With Healy, she added 47 runs, looking set for a big score before Goswami dismissed Healy for 29 runs from 66 balls.

Brief Scores: India 377/8 in 145 overs decl. (Smriti Mandhana 127, Deepti Sharma 66; Sophie Molineux 2/45) lead Australia 143/4 in 60 overs (Meg Lanning 38, Alyssa Healy 29; Jhulan Goswami 2/27) by 234 runs