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Monday, March 20, 2017

Pall of Doom Hangs Over Australia's Chances

When it comes to predictability, especially in regards to a Test match played in India by Australia, Day Four in Ranchi probably upheld everything that you could have expected. India was behind the eight ball, struggling to contain whatever deficit they were likely to face to a minimum, before Australia went about increasing that lead in their second innings. Of course, what transpired was exactly the opposite, and not for the first time in the last 40-odd years of tussles between these two nations, the visitors are now in a precarious position.

  1. For two sessions, Pujara and Saha held the Australian bowling quartet at bay, kicking away the balls outside their stumps, calmly prodding away those on the stumps, and when they felt comfortable enough they moved the ball for singles or twos. Starting the day 91 runs behind Australia, that deficit was still to be erased at lunch, but once they did post lunch, and the two of them still together, each run started stabbing at the heart of the Australian batsmen. In many ways it was as frustrating to watch as the Dravid/Laxman partnership 16 years ago, and as on that occasion the two batsmen were patient and took no outward risks, and just slowly built their partnership. It wasn’t until it was decided that quick runs were required that they both fell, for innings that neither will forget in the context of their careers.
  2. Ravindra Jadeja once again delivered in circumstances that were tailor made for him. Firstly, with a lead already established, he came to the crease and could play his natural attacking game with no threat of damaging the team’s position, and in this carefree situation delivered the runs that the team needed. Then almost as if by divine proclamation he found spit and fire in the pitch that had been hidden from the Australians and delivered two wickets in the eight overs they had to face before stumps, including the one they would have wanted most in David Warner. The stars appear aligned again today for him to be the winner of this Test for India in such conditions.
  3. The Australian bowlers can be proud of their efforts over more than two days in the field. On a track which has fooled everyone and offered almost nothing for the bowlers, the four Aussies stuck to their guns, and gave nothing away. There was practically no easy runs, and while thewicket was mostly docile they occasionally found a way to get through. Steven O’Keefe was magnificent for 77 overs over bowling, finishing with 3/199. Some would say he was negative in his line outside leg stump to Pujara, but given the partnership of 199 with Saha was through taking no risks, the tactics had to be to wear him down or be worn down. SOK stuck to his task well under the conditions. Hazlewood and Cummins were magnificent. It will be interesting to see, in light of recent ‘concerns’ over bowler workload, what will happen with these two for the final Test. Lyon was solid but unlike the other three tended to give those loose balls that allowed the batsmen to rotate strike.
  4. How will the wicket play on Day Five? Day Four showed it was still placid, and to be honest perhaps the fact that neither Australian spinner was able to get much out of it is a concern, especially after what Jadeja did in four overs at the end of the day. I know I harp on about this, but I spent the day pondering what a wrist spinner may have gotten from this surface. A bit of variable bounce? A bit of turn by spinning with the wrist rather than the fingers? We’ll never know, but you can be sure that the way Day Four progressed will mean that Mitchell Swepson’s Test debut may be a lot closer than we thought a few days ago.
  5. The massive holes in Dave Warner armoury are being exposed for all to see on this tour. After his dismissal last night, he is averaging 21.83 with a highest score of 38. In Sri Lanka last year he averaged 27.16. It will be more troubloing to himself than it is to us cricket tragics, and he will be more determined to find a way through it. His reputation is not in tatters, but the mental battle has been well and truly won by the Indian spinners. To be honest, if you were England at the moment you would have to contemplate opening with a spinner in the upcoming Ashes series on the back of this. With one Test to come, Warner will have two chances to put this all behind him and find a way to get his mojo back.
  6. Finally, wasn’t it great to see Virat Kohli so excited about the fall of Warner’s wicket, that he decided to mock himself by holding his shoulder in ‘triumph’. I know it will be all happy times in India and it will be seen as a vindication that they are well on top. Surely the rest of the world currently just see him as a show pony who is trying to compensate for the fact that he too cannot seem to score a run against this bowling attack.
The future of the series hangs on today’s result. Australia’s record in these situations is… rubbish. On a day when it looked as it would be Australia pushing for victory, now they can only dig in and hope to bat out the day for a draw. With two wickets having already fallen and a deficit of 129 runs still in arrears, only the most optimistic supporter would say they can survive without defeat. It is a great test for Renshaw, Handscomb and Maxwell to prove their batting powers, and for Shaun Marsh to prove he is worth persisting with. I hope I can sit here and write tomorrow’s summary as a huge positive for Australian cricket, and not the repeating disaster than hangs over this final day like a pall of doom.

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