Cricket, I’m sure you will have been told, is all about timing.
It’s timing that made the ball sound like a cannon coming off Virat Kohli’s bat in that viral pre-match video, timing that meant Marcus Harris’s Shield form gave selectors little choice but to name him in this Test squad, and timing that has helped India all but take Australia out of the first Test in Adelaide.
It started from early in the day, when Australia still had designs on a first-innings lead and rain appeared its greatest obstacle to achieving it. The delays were frustrating, but the timing of them were infuriating.
Rain had been falling for some time, but it wasn’t until Mitchell Starc edged behind that the umpires decided it was an impediment to the game and took the players off. Starc will feel had that decision been made five minutes earlier, perhaps his innings could have been more substantial.
Travis Head had hardly played a false stroke in his innings of 72, but chose the moment Nathan Lyon had begun to get on top of the bowling to follow one and present the catch to Rishabh Pant. Josh Hazlewood followed one ball later, and Lyon’s cameo remained just that.
‘No matter,’ Tim Paine and his chargers will have thought, a 20-minute pre-lunch flurry with a brand new ball, heavy overhead conditions and two under-pressure batsmen sounds like a perfect way to bludgeon this match back in the home side’s favour.
But alas, the rain. As Paine raged in the dying light, the umpires were unmoved in their decision to postpone the resumption, giving India’s openers the lunch break to take a load off and ease into what was to be the match’s defining period.
What followed, in that first hour after lunch, was absolutely gripping cricket. Hazlewood bowled sensationally with the new ball, Starc slightly erratically while carrying a constant threat, and both Murali Vijay and KL Rahul were fighting both their own natural instincts and the swinging ball.
The Indian pair resisted the urge to slash for long enough to take the wind out of Australia’s sails and when the big shots eventually came, they were earned and executed to perfection — that cover-driven six from Rahul off Pat Cummins needed to be seen to be believed.
Both openers eventually fell playing poor shots, but the most dangerous hour had passed. If there was a time to lose both opening batsmen in a tense third innings, that was probably it.
The question that seemed to be asked the most as day three played out was: ‘What can Australia realistically expect to chase down in its fourth innings?’
History suggests the Aussies are already in trouble — only eight times in the history of Adelaide Oval has more than 166 been chased down to win a Test in the fourth innings, and only once has more than 250 been conquered.
There’s a reason you win the toss and bat in Adelaide, and it doesn’t lend itself to any Australian heroics in this match.
Unlike Australia, India has the luxury of fielding its two best batsmen in this Test series, and the third afternoon soon became a long one for Australia as Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara began asserting themselves at the crease.
Pujara picked up right where he left off from the first innings, this time finding a friend in the form of the DRS and an unlikely foe in the form of a tube of pickle juice.
It took a run-out of unfathomable quality to dismiss Pujara on day one, and it may take something similar on day four. He’s a batsman so in control of his own thought process, and so secure in his technique that it’s difficult to see anything short of the spectacular bringing him undone.
The same could have been said for Kohli as he worked into his innings, he too a victim of the freakish on the opening day. Australia threw everything at him immediately — including Cummins, who stood as a statistical anomaly in Kohli’s career — but were met by the unflappable blade of the world’s best.
And then, out of nothing, a push and an edge and a catch. Stumps were only minutes away and had it been Kohli walking off with Pujara at the conclusion of play, the match could have been considered all but over.
Now, there is something left for Australia. The wicket was a reward for Lyon, who bowled wonderfully all afternoon, and a fillip for a team that will look at the back end of India’s order and fancy its chances.
For one moment on day three, Australia’s timing was perfect.