AUSSIES NEED A MIRACLE
THE nervous Australian batting line-up is 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 hold the whip hand and the tourists’ 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 single-minded 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 Aussie bowling effort trying desperately 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 them. After a break he got Kohli and Aussie spirits lifted.
“I felt like I was going to get him at bat pad or bowled through the gate. It was great to get some reward out of that,” Lyon, who has dismissed Kohli five times, more than any other bowler, told Fox Cricket. “It was one of those days when I felt I bowled really well and could have come away with six or seven wickets.”
Lyon’s effort, and that of Hazlewood and Cummins, was a lesson in how to fight for the Australian batters who have to elevate their effort when their turn comes sometime on what looms as sweaty-palms Sunday.
Local lad Travis Head declared any target score was “gettable” on the new Adelaide Oval wicket and despite staring down the barrel of a nerve-jangling run chance recent history suggests fourth and fifth day 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, which went in fits and starts the first time around, would 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.
National coach Justin Langer has been at pains to point out his rookie batsmen were “fighting their backsides off” to become the Test players he needs them to be.
Langer has instilled a positive mindset in the dressing room too, hoping to ensure failures with the bat aren’t the confidence-sapping events they could become, such is their frequency.
After first dig failures, opener Aaron Finch and middle-order lynch pin Shaun Marsh might be given the perfect opportunity to become national heroes and get their team to the line.
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 skipper Paine, pulled their team out of the fire as 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 their lessons from day one and implored 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, starting 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 over 2.5 an over through 60 bowled during a rain-interrupted day. And every Indian run without a wicket as the final session went on was a small dagger to Australia’s chances, but the home team exited as anything but a lost cause.