Fighting Aussies stay ahead

Indian bowlers put up a good show but hosts build a comfortable 326-run lead

Fighting Aussies stay ahead

Indian bowlers came up with their best collective performance of the tour yet to rattle Australia in their second innings but a handy 65-run first innings lead kept the hosts ahead in the third Test.

 At stumps of an extended fourth day’s play on Monday, Australia were 261 for eight for an overall lead of 326 going into the final day. Shaun Marsh (62 batting) produced his first significant score in this series to help Australia weather an Indian onslaught after David Warner (40) and Chris Rogers (69, 123b, 8x4) had done their bit at the top on a rain-interrupted day at the thinly-attended Melbourne Cricket Ground.
 
The Indian first innings came to a swift end with Mitchell Johnson firing out the remaining two wickets. The left-arm paceman dismissed Umesh Yadav off the second ball of the day with a short delivery and then had overnight batsman Mohammad Shami caught at slip with a fuller delivery in the next over. India, overnight 462/8, were packed off for the addition of just three runs.

 It remains to be seen if Australia declare first thing in the morning but the Adelaide chase, where India imploded towards the end, would be at the back of their minds.

 Had Virat Kohli not got out in the final over of middle day’s play, things may have been a lot different for India. That said, India’s lower-order batting has barely come to the party on this series quite unlike Australia’s. Before the Australia’s second innings on the day, Indian lower order (from 6 to 10) had managed 389 runs as against home team’s 784.

 Having wrapped up the visitors’ innings, Australia began aggressively with Warner picking fours at will. The left-hander, battling a sore thumb and a bruised right forearm, collected a brisk 40 off 42 balls to provide hosts the kind of start they would have been looking for.

Just when things appeared to be getting out of control for India, R Ashwin deceived the feisty opener with a drifter and trapped him lbw. With the score 90/1 at lunch, Australia were still ahead in the game.

 The second session began 86 minutes behind schedule due to persistent showers but not much of play was lost as the play was extended by 90 minutes though overrate remained poor.

Post lunch, Ishant Sharma bowled a probing spell to keep the Australian batsmen at bay, maintaining a nagging line and length at appreciable pace. The reward came soon in the form of Watson, who edged one to M S Dhoni.

Steven Smith (14) fell for the leg-side trap, his flick off Yadav caught smartly by Ajinkya Rahane at leg-slip. This was the lowest score by the Australian skipper in the series and the right-hander was understandably livid with himself for the manner in which he got out.

 Rogers, who brought up his fourth consecutive fifty of the series, held the Australian innings together both anchoring and accelerating as Marsh appeared a bit uncertain at the beginning.

Against the run of play, Ashwin pulled things back for India when Rogers played the off-spinner on to his stumps, the ball dribbling off the pad and rolling on to hit the woodwork. Australia left for tea on a not-so-comfortable 174 for four with two fresh batsmen to start the final session of the day.

 Strangely, Dhoni brought on Shami from where Ashwin was bowling immediately after resumption while Ishant kept it tight from the other end. The paceman, who had gone wicketless in the first innings, was rewarded again for his persistence when Joe Burns flashed at a delivery that bounced more than he expected it to and the thick edge was pouched by Dhoni.

The Indian skipper was kept busy through the day as Brad Haddin feathered a down-the-leg delivery from Yadav for Dhoni to complete another catch which took his tally for the match to eight, including a stumping.

 Johnson was kept quiet by the Indian bowlers who were wiser by the experience. Ashwin, as has been the case throughout this Test, dried up runs from one end while the faster bowlers didn’t feed Johnson to his strengths.

Perhaps frustrated, the left-hander pulled the first genuine short-ball he received from Shami but top-edged for Rahane to complete a simple catch at short mid-wicket.

A few words were exchanged between Johnson and the Indian fielders as he walked back to the pavilion that ensured relations between the two teams remained frosty on a relatively incident-free day.      

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