India skipper Virat Kohli criticised the balls provided for the third Test, stating that they lost their hardness early and dented his bowlers’ ability to extract bounce and create wicket-taking opportunities in the second half of the fifth day.
India, who were sniffing for a win after sending Australia’s top-order packing by lunch, were left frustrated as Australia’s Peter Handscomb (72) and Shaun Marsh (53) batted out the final two sessions to stretch the contest into the fourth and final Test in Dharamsala.
“I think the hardness of the ball was a big factor,” Kohli said. “When the ball was new last night, it spun well off the rough. Even this morning, it was spinning well. But in the middle session, the ball was not hard, so could not generate that kind of pace from the wicket. On day five, [the] wicket slows down anyway. We took the new ball and got a couple of wickets. But the hardness of the ball in the middle session was a factor.”
Kohli, however, said that Australia deserved the draw. “We don’t want to take any credit away from their batsmen,” he said. “In the second innings, they obviously batted well and earned the draw.”
Australia skipper Steve Smith had come out after the game and said that the momentum was with the visitors, heading into the final Test. Kohli, though, was quick to rule out any such notion, clarifying that India was the team that had any chance of winning.
“From where we were with the score at 320/6 with 451 to chase, to make 600, was a great effort on our part,” Kohli said. “We were happy that we got ourselves into a position where we could play for a win. If you’re playing against the No 2 side, they will obviously show fight. We are happy that we were in a strong position and did not have to bat again. There is one match left and I am sure both teams will put their best effort in to take the series.”
Australia captain Steve Smith didn’t think much of Kohli’s criticism of the balls that were used. “The cricket balls? I haven’t really thought about it,” he said. “I don’t think we can do anything about it. We both use the same SG ball, just got to do what you can with it.”
‘Jadeja proved why he is No 1’
Despite India’s inability to close out the game, Kohli was full of praise for teammate and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja for his “outstanding” performance in conditions which the India captain felt favoured the batsmen more.
“All our bowlers bowled really well, but according to me it was Jadeja who was the standout performer,” Kohli said. “His economy if you consider the wicket, was quite incredible. High-class bowling and [he] proved why he is the No 1 bowler along with R Ashwin.”
Jadeja, who bagged a five-wicket haul in the first innings, picked up four in the second and gave away just 54 runs, having bowled 44 overs in total. Ashwin, by contrast, was given only 30 overs to bowl and did not manage to make much impact coming away from the day with just one wicket.
“We obviously wanted to give jadeja more opportunities to bowl as he was hitting the rough areas consistently. The ball has to turn into the batsman, be it left handed and right,” Kohli explained.
“There was nothing wrong with Ashwin. The fast bowlers were effective from one end, while spinners were effective from the other. Jadeja you can keep aside, he really stood apart in this game. In general bowlers could not find much purchase from the centre of the wicket. The focus was on allowing bowlers to bowl from the right end and not which bowlers should bowl more. Roles always reverse its not a big factor for us.”
‘Cheteshwar Pujara is priceless to have in the team’
Kohli also chose to highlight the work put in Chesteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha for putting India in a position of strength during the Test.
“KL Rahul (67) and Murali Vijay (82) batted beautifully, but the partnership between Pujara and Saha is the best I have seen,” said Kohli. “We got ourselves into a very good position. Losing the toss here was never easy. Not being able to take the field [due to injury] was never easy for me and then watching the opposition get big runs was difficult. But we batted beautifully.”
Applauding his players’ desire to stand up and be counted, Kohli said, “Guys want to push the barrier, their physical limits, their mental toughness. Credit to Australia for playing out the draw, but we played ourselves into a position where we could have won.”
Pujara had eked out a marathon 525-ball 202 on day three to share a crucial 199-run stand with Wriddhiman Saha (117) for the seventh wicket. The effort had helped India declare on 603/9 after Australia had posted 451 in their first innings.
Kohli said he felt bad that Pujara’s contribution to the team was always overlooked and credited him for putting his hand up and leading India out of tough situation. “He is the most composed player in the team,” said Kohli. “He is someone who is priceless to have in the team. When the pressure situation comes he is always someone who puts his hand up and holds up one end.
“This season he has been incredible for us. I don’t know the number of runs he has scored, but he has contributed throughout. He has not been someone who is noticed enough, but people should take not of his contributions this season. I hope he can continue in the same vein in Dharamsala as well,” Kohli added.