SYDNEY (AFP) – A ruthless India took a stranglehold on the final Test in Sydney yesterday as they forced Australia to follow on at home for the first time in 30 years, leaving the hosts facing a full day’s batting to cling on for a draw.
Play started almost four hours late due to rain, with the home team resuming on 236 for six after lunch in reply to India’s thumping first innings 622 for seven declared.
But needing a win to level the four-match series, Australia crumbled to 300 all out, compounding the misery after some soft dismissals by the top order on Saturday as they stare down the barrel of defeat.
Indian skipper Virat Kohli sent them straight back into bat – the first time Australia have been asked to follow on at home since Mike Gatting’s England did the same in 1988, also in Sydney.
Marcus Harris, not out two, and Usman Khawaja, unbeaten on four, survived four overs before tea was taken early for bad light. They didn’t come back with play abandoned for the day.
Middle-order batsman Peter Handscomb said it would be “huge” if Australia could bat out the final day and salvage a draw.
“We’ve got a really, really good chance to shift some momentum back into our camp, not just for the upcoming one-dayers (against India), but there’s the World Cup also and the Ashes,” he said.
“This momentum can start tomorrow. We know as a batting group that we can take some confidence if we can last out the day and show the country, the world, that we’re not far off clicking and being a really, really good team.”
India’s spinners had picked up five of the six wickets on Saturday, but under overcast skies when play finally began on day four Kohli took the new ball straight away and threw it to his quicks.
It immediately paid dividends with Pat Cummins, who scored a gutsy 63 in the Melbourne Test, lasting just three balls, clean bowled by Mohammed Shami without adding to his overnight 25.
The recalled Handscomb began with purpose, confidently stroking two boundaries to move to 37 before swiping at a Jasprit Bumrah delivery and dragging it onto his stumps.
That brought Nathan Lyon to the crease but he only lasted five balls, out lbw to a full toss from Kuldeep Yadav.
Hanuma Vihari dropped a sitter when Josh Hazlewood was on nought, and it proved costly with the tailender putting on 42 with Mitchell Starc for the last wicket before he fell to Yadav, who was the pick of the bowlers with 5-99 – his second career five-wicket haul.
India lead the four-Test series 2-1 and only need a draw to clinch a first-ever series win Down Under, with Kohli’s men on the cusp of doing something no Indian team has managed since they began touring Australia in 1947-48.
Bowling coach Bharat Arun said India’s key motivation throughout the series was simply to get in front and stay there.
“The onus of this particular group is putting the team in front. Irrespective of what situation we are in, we say we are going out there to put our best foot forward and play our best cricket,” he said.
“At the end of the day, the effort is what counts.”
It would be a deserved accomplishment to win the series with their batsmen – spearheaded by stoic number three Cheteshwar Pujara – a class above, and their bowlers brutally exposing Australia’s weaknesses.
So far in Sydney, none of Australia’s batsmen have managed to put together the marathon innings needed, with Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and Tim Paine all out in the first innings to poor shots.
Harris’ breezy 79 – remarkably the highest score by an Australian the entire series – was the exception.
Unless someone gets a hundred in their final knock, it will be the hosts’ first century-less four-Test home series in their history.
Former skipper Ricky Ponting lamented so many soft dismissals throughout the series.
“Technical, mental, whatever those mistakes may be, they’ve made a lot of mistakes,” he said.