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India 62 for 2 (Sharma 44) trail Australia 369 (Labuschagne 108, Paine 50, Natarajan 3-78) by 307 runs
Rain washed out the final session of day two with the fourth Test poised intriguingly. Having bowled Australia out for 369 by lunch, India made a solid start to their reply before Rohit Sharma fell against the run of play to put the hosts on top.
India will resume at 62 for 2, with Cheteshwar Pujara, who has already batted for more than an hour, and Ajinkya Rahane at the crease.
With the pitch at the Gabba offering pace and true bounce but little in the way of seam movement, the main question at the start of India’s innings was how their batsmen would deal with Australia’s discipline on or around off stump. Sharma and Shubman Gill saw out the first six overs, bowled by Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, without too much discomfort – other than a Starc delivery that jagged away off a crack to beat Sharma’s outside edge – before a bowling change brought Australia their breakthrough.
The bowler and the method of dismissal were entirely predictable. Through this series, Pat Cummins has forced the right-hand batsmen to play at his deliveries in the corridor with his pronounced inward angle, and then got the ball to straighten off the seam to find their outside edges. He did just that with his second ball, and Gill, who tends to stay leg-side of the ball at most times, felt for the ball and edged to second slip.
The same fate could have befallen Pujara next ball, but his softer hands ensured the ball fell short of the fielder. Aside from a similar moment later in Cummins’ spell, Pujara was assured at the crease, soaking up the good balls while showing a willingness to push firmly down the ground as well as open his bat face and look for runs behind square on the off side. He had shelved the latter option completely in the third Test in Sydney, where the pace and bounce were far less certain than on this pitch.
Grey clouds hover close to the Gabba around tea time Cricket Australia via Getty Images
Sharma, meanwhile, was looking entirely at ease with the bowling and the conditions, getting right behind the line to defend, and driving handsomely down the ground when the bowlers erred on the full side.
Having moved to 40 with one such drive off Green, he picked up another boundary in the next over, punching Nathan Lyon through the covers when he dropped short. Just when he seemed on course for a match-defining contribution, however, he stepped out to Lyon and holed out attempting a lofted hit. It was a familiar moment for those who have followed his career – he’s been out in similar fashion to Moeen Ali in Southampton in 2014, Dane Piedt in Delhi in 2015 and Lyon in Adelaide during India’s 2018-19 tour of Australia – and one whose repercussions could yet be felt through the rest of this match.
Australia lost their five remaining wickets during the morning session while adding 95 to their overnight total, in 28.1 overs. Much like the entirety of day one, it was a session to please or displease neither team.
The overnight pair of Cameron Green and Tim Paine extended their sixth-wicket stand from 61 to 98 without too much trouble when the ball was still new, with Green looking particularly impressive while driving down the ground. But soon after Paine had brought up his half-century, a loose shot pried the door open for India. He drove away from his body at a Shardul Thakur outswinger, with no movement of the feet, and edged to second slip.
Within the space of the next two overs, India seemed to have burst through the opening, as Washington Sundar bowled Green, finding natural variation to beat his outside edge when the allrounder played for turn, and Thakur had Cummins lbw playing all around a low full-toss.
Having reduced Australia to 315 for 8, however, India’s bowlers showed their inexperience, bowling too short or too full in an effort to blast out the tail. Lyon and Starc took full toll in a ninth-wicket stand of 39 off just 40 balls. Even Josh Hazlewood, the No. 11, played a couple of spanking off-side drives before T Natarajan came back into the attack and knocked back his off stump with a near-yorker.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo