Lyon opens door
THE nervous Australian batting line-up are staring down the barrel of a fourth-innings rescue mission after a last-gasp effort from spinner Nathan Lyon nudged the first Test door open for his team.
Odds for the home side pulling off a remarkable win were slashed by half as Lyon finally dismissed Indian captain Virat Kohli in the shadows of stumps, after 20 overs of trying.
India holds the whip hand and the tourist’s middle order, including first-innings roadblock Cheteswhar Pujara, stand between the Aussies and a gettable fourth innings total. The lead was 166 at stumps, with six wickets in hand.
Kohli’s determination to do what none of the eight previous Indian captains before him could, and win a series in Australia, pushed him through an enthralling battle with Aussie pace ace Josh Hazlewood.
Runs were hard to come by and then Lyon struck as part of a valiant bowling effort to stay in the game.
Curiously, Aussie captain Tim Paine kept attacking weapon Mitch Starc cool for more than two hours after his early spells, and only called on him for two more overs in the final session. Instead Lyon probed away for 18 overs straight, and twice had Pujara given out only to lose the toss when the Indian referred the decisions. After a break he got Kohli and Aussie spirits lifted.
Despite staring down the barrel of a nerve-jangling run chase, recent history suggests fourth and fifth day efforts on the Adelaide Oval drop-in pitch are easier now than ever.
In Sheffield Shield cricket, at least, the past two teams batting last in Adelaide went well beyond 300 without being bowled out.
But Test cricket is on another level and it would seem this new-look Aussie top order will have to muster something extraordinary to avoid handing India a 1-0 series lead.
No team has chased down more than 239 batting last to win a Test in Adelaide since the middle of last century, and the only successful chase of more than 300 came in 1902.
Paine and company have shown their steel for the fight as recently as October, too.
In the United Arab Emirates, Usman Khawaja batted for 522 minutes in the desert heat as he and his skipper pulled their team out of the fire. Australia survived nearly 140 overs to earn a famous draw.
They will need all that mettle and more to equal the second-up effort of the Indians who learned lessons from day one and employed a “wait first, then hit” mentality.
Openers KL Rahul and Murali Vijay scored just eight runs from the first 50 balls of the second innings, started after lunch and a long rain delay.
None of those runs came off Hazlewood, who bowled 24 straight dot balls to start, and four of the runs were leg byes.
The run rate hardly lifted when the openers left, stuck on just more than 2.5 an over through 60 bowled during a rain-interrupted day.
But every Indian run without a wicket as the final session went on was a small dagger to Australia’s chances. However, the home team exited as anything but a lost cause.
Josh Hazlewood celebrates the wicket of Lokesh Rahul, and (clockwise from top right) Virat Kohli attacks, then is dismissed by Nathan Lyon. Pictures: GETTY IMAGES, AAP