Sport Cricket Fourth Test: Business as usual as Australian middle order flops

Fourth Test: Business as usual as Australian middle order flops

Tim Paine
Feeling the Paine at the SCG. Photos: Getty
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India – 7-622dec      Australia 6-236

Handscomb 28*     Cummins 25* 

Rain and poor light interrupted play late on day three of the fourth Test at the SCG as Australia once again failed to meet the challenge with the bat.

When play was abandoned for the day Australia were 6-236 still 386 runs behind India’s first innings total of 7d-622.

Australia lost 4-76 in the middle session on day three as the recurring nightmare of their middle-order batting continued to haunt them.

The rot continued after tea when captain Tim Paine produced an awful shot from Australia’s batting hall of horrors to be the latest man out.

Paine was bowled through his bat and pad after an attempt to drive Yadav that was so clumsy it should have had L-Plates on.

The rot started when Marcus Harris (79) spurned an opportunity to score a maiden Test century by chopping a Ravindra Jadeja delivery onto his stumps soon after lunch.

It was a disappointing end to promising innings from the Australian opener, playing a loose shot with questionable technique that made a gift of his wicket.

“It was disappointing not to get a hundred but it was good to spend that time out in the middle,” Harris said.

“I was frustrated the way I got out. I’d been playing positively towards the spinners and then got out playing a pretty half-arsed shot,” Harris said.

His dismissal triggered a now too-familiar middle-order meltdown for Australia.

Shaun Marsh’s (8) wretched run of form continued as he provided Jadeja with his second wicket of the innings by leaning into an off-break and edging a regulation catch to Anjinkya Rahane at slip.

Marnus Labuschagne was next to fall to India’s meticulous bowling plans.

Captain Virat Kohli brought Mohammed Shami into the attack and placed a silly mid-on and short mid-wicket in the eye line of the Australian batsmen, banking on their propensity to whip the ball in the air to the on side.

On cue, like an actor walking on stage to play his role, that’s exactly what Labuschagne did. Kohli obliged him by holding on to a superb catch.

Travis Head (20) was the architect of his own demise as well.

Head shovelled a rank full toss straight back to Kuldeep Yadav who couldn’t quite believe his luck as he claimed the fifth wicket in the Australian innings.

The Indian leg-spinner has had to wait his turn for an opportunity in this series and he got his reward here with figures of 3-71.

“I’m still learning every day. The England tour (2018) was challenging for me. After that, I’ve really worked on my bowling with my coach. For any spinner, it’s important to stick with the basics – a little bit of flight, turn the ball, deceive the batsman in the air.

“It’s the most important thing for me and I’m still working on that,” Yadav said.

Before the lunch break, Harris and Labuschagne put together a 50-run partnership as Australia went to lunch at 1-122.

Australia began the day a whopping 598 runs in arrears of India’s first innings total.

At the start of play, Usman Khawaja and  Harris resumed at the crease in hot and challenging conditions against an Indian bowling attack that has turned to a dual spin combination to complement its outstanding fast bowlers for this match.

Spinners Jadeja and Yadev were asked to do the heavy lifting for India on a pitch that has traditionally given the tweakers plenty of encouragement.

Jadeja almost enjoyed instant success on day three when Harris scooped a dipping delivery to Lokesh Rahul at mid-on which fell just short of his diving attempt to take the catch.

Harris was determined to be bold, using his feet to get down the wicket and punching out five boundaries as the opening pair brought up their 50 partnership.

Harris looked set to prosper, posting a half-century from 67 deliveries.

Khawaja’s struggles against slow bowling continue.

The Queensland captain hit across the line of a Yadeev delivery and was caught at mid-wicket by Chesteshwar Pujara.

Khawaja’s doldrums are emblematic for Australia’s batting. The senior batsman in the team has produced just 167 runs in the series so far at an average of 23.8.

Contrast those numbers with India’s star batsman Pujara’s 522 runs in the series at an average of 74. 5 and you have some sense of the gulf in batting prowess between these two teams.

Harris insists morale within the Australian change room remains strong.

“It’s been good. If someone had said to me in early November or October that I’d be playing the fourth Test in Sydney I would have told them to bugger off,” he joked.

“Everyone in the team is thankful that they are part of the Australian cricket team. Yes, it’s been a tough series but we’ve also won a Test in Perth and fought really hard in Adelaide and Melbourne.”

“It’s been hard and it’s been great. I’m sure a few boys ae a bit tired but everyone is still in a good space.”


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