Ravindra Jadeja
India’s Ravindra Jadeja celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Australia’s Travis Head on Day 3 of the ICC World Test Championship cricket final against Australia at The Oval, in London, on June 9, 2023. Jadeja’s two strikes have given India a glimmer of hope. Image Credit: Reuters

With every run Australia scored, India’s chances of clawing back looked distant. Not that it was ever bright on Day 3 of the World Test Championship final. The championship mace was firmly in Australia’s bag when they dismissed India for 296. A lead of 173 is a huge advantage, and they added 123 more to take the game beyond India’s reach on Friday.

At this point, India’s chances are bleak, with Australia swelling their lead to 293 to finish the day with 123/4 in the second innings. Rohit Sharma’s team will need to dismiss Australia fairly quickly so that they do not chase a stiff target on a pitch of variable bounce.

Rahane Thakur
India's Shardul Thakur (left) and Ajinkya Rahane walk off the pitch for lunch on Day 3 of the ICC World Test Championship cricket final against Australia at The Oval, in London, on June 9, 2023. Their 109-run stand for the seventh wicket was the cornerstone of India’s total of 296. Image Credit: AFP

The pitch continued to baffle the batters. While some deliveries reared sharply to inflict painful blows on Marnus Labuschange, some others kept so low that the Australian batter was lucky to keep them away from the stumps. More ominous was the turn from rough with left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja extracting some prodigious turn. Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon wouldn’t have missed that, and his eyes would have lit up at the sight. So the fourth innings chase will indeed be very tricky, especially if the target is over 350.

India will take heart from the gutsy display of Ajinkya Rahane (89) and Shardul Thakur (51). After Australian pacer Scott Boland dismissed Srikar Bharat with the day’s second ball, the duo steered India through choppy waters to a respectable total with a 109-run stand for the seventh wicket. Thakur made light of several blows to his body, and Rahane cranked up his shot-making after he crossed 50. But alas, his 13th century eluded him when Cameron Green caught a blinder at gully.

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A total of 296 seemed to have given India some hope of salvaging the match as they came charging back with fiery spells from their fast bowlers. David Warner’s early dismissal and Usman Khwaja’s departure gave a ray of hope before Steve Smith toyed with the Indian bowling. That was before Jadeja’s double blow, which sent back both the first innings’ centurions. Smith (34) uncharacteristically slogged and Travis Head (18), who faced a bouncer barrage, gave a return catch.

Labsuchange (41 not out) and Green could not accelerate the scoring against some tight bowling. That will lift India’s confidence when they return to The Oval on Day 4. But it looks as if the result is a foregone conclusion. That shouldn’t India stop from trying. After all, cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties.

No game is over till it’s over. More so in cricket.