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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Lyon's Magic Gives Australia an Unlikely Chance for Victory

Cricket matches can turn on funny things. Sometimes it’s a boundary that gets stopped by a great piece of fielding, or someone not getting off strike when they should have. Or perhaps it could be a set batsman, one who looks like taking the game away from you, being run out at the non-strikers end as he backs up and fails to get back into his ground in time. Welcome to Mirni, where in a day of vital moments, Rahim’s run out in just this way off the fingers of Nathan Lyon changed the course of the Test match, and helped Australia somehow crawl off the canvas and back into the fight.

While, as an Australian, you always felt as though Australia had the capacity to come back against Bangladesh in this match simply because… well… it’s Bangladesh and we should be beating them, the figures did not look good. Worse was to come, with Josh Hazlewood breaking down with his seventh ball of the day, and leaving the field. He did not bowl again in the innings, and will be flown home immediately after the Test concludes. Not only was it a bitter pill for the team in trying to win this Test, it also bodes poorly for the upcoming home summer.

Nathan Lyon started the day the way he needed to, removing the nightwatchman and Kayes to leave the score at 3/67, but then came a lengthy and impressive partnership between Tamim and Rahim that looked like it was securing an unbeatable lead for the home team. They took the score to 3/135 and a lead of 178. Australia’s first piece of fortune arrived right in the nick of time. A rising brute of a delivery from Cummins brushed past Tamim, and Australia’s appeal was turned down by habitual nemesis Aleem Dar. On review it was seen to flick the glove on the way past and Tamim’s excellent innings of 78 was over – an excellent Test match for him. Eight runs later, first innings hard case Shakib was beautifully fooled by Lyon’s flighted ball, and skewed the ball to deep cover to be dismissed for 5, a real coup for Australia. But another steadying partnership of 42 had Bangladesh now at 5/186 and a lead of 229 when fate struck with Rahim’s run out. It was the straw that broke the innings from Bangladesh’s point of view. Seeing their captain walk back, dismissed but not of his own hand or of a bowler’s, set the tone, as both Nasir and Sabbir fell on the same total, to Agar and Lyon respectively. Apart from some slogging resistance, the Bangladesh team was rounded up for 221, and a lead of 264 overall.

Here is where Nathan Lyon gets his due. In the first innings I felt he was still bowling too quickly, and the batsmen played him much easier because of it. In the second innings he perhaps bowled as well as I have seen him. His average speed was below 90kph, and most of his wicket taking deliveries were in the mid-80’s. His flight, drop and bounce was wonderful, and he used the conditions of the pitch well, as well as varying his flight and speed. His final figures of 6/82 off 34.3 overs was a wonderful reward for excellent bowling. He took on the responsibility that fell to him, even moreso after Hazlewood’s injury, and he did it superbly. I have been a detractor of his at times in his career. Perhaps this will be where he really earns the plaudits that some have already given to him. The support too from both Cummins (1/38) and Agar (2/55) was enormous. Both also increased their value to the team here, and will no doubt have learned a lot from it as well.

Australia needed more from its top order in the second innings, but again was in trouble. Both Renshaw and Khawaja were out-thought, and at 2/28 and still 237 from victory it looked an unlikely task. But today was a new day, and the captain and vice-captain had other ideas. David Warner finally found a way to score, and perhaps more importantly was finally given a life early on, something he hasn’t received too often in Asia. He made them pay too, playing positive but not reckless cricket (where have I heard that before?...), and did the majority of the scoring in the evening session. By the time stumps had arrived, Australia had reached 2/109, and the game was afoot. Warner was 75 not out of those runs, while Smith played his own game at the other end, remaining not out on 25. From an impossible position in the middle of the day, Australia had found a way to requiring 156 on what will be the final day with eight wickets remaining.

And so tomorrow will be the final day of this match, and once again it will be anyone’s Test match. Bangladesh will feel confident of knocking over the young Australian middle and lower order – if they can penetrate the two who are at the crease now. For Australia’s part, they will no doubt look to get the deficit down as quickly as possible in order to keep any panic to a minimum. Once again, as on each of the first three days, it should be a fascinating day’s cricket.
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