Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon put on show the famous Australian resolve with their more “accomplished” batsmen showing little stomach for fight. India brought themselves within two wickets of taking an unprecedented 2-1 lead Down Under.
Chasing India’s stiff target of 399, Australia had slipped to 215 for eight and it appeared a mere formality before the tourists wrapped up a much-deserved win. Cummins (61 n.o., 103b, 5x4, 1x6) and Lyon (6 n.o., 38b), however, frustrated the Indians no end by sharing a 43-run stand for the unbroken ninth wicket to take the Boxing Day Test into the fifth day.
Play was extended by 30 minutes with floodlights on, but Cummins and Lyon stood like a rock, warding off the second new-ball expertly. The hosts finished the penultimate day of the third Test at 258 for eight from 85 overs, still trailing India by 140 runs here at the MCG on Saturday. It remains to be seen how long the Aussie tail can baulk the Indian attack on the final day.
Unlike in the first innings when Jasprit Bumrah ran through the Aussie batting line-up with a six-wicket haul, India saw all their front-line bowlers work in tandem to push Australia to the brink.
Earlier, Cummins, who has been having a brilliant Test, brought up his best figures (6/27) as India, overnight 54/5, declared their second innings closed at 106/8 in 37.3 overs. And India began their pursuit of win in right earnest with Bumrah providing them an early breakthrough in the shape of Aaron Finch. Ravindra Jadeja added to hosts’ misery by having Marcus Harris caught at short leg.
Australia, after slipping to 33 for two, showed signs of a fightback in patches through Shaun Marsh (44), Usman Khawaja (30) and Travis Head (34) but in a chase of around 400 you needed bigger contributions even to come anywhere near the target and not these cute cameos. Aussies find themselves in this precarious state as much because of their inability to apply themselves to the conditions as for Indian bowlers’ unrelenting effort.
Shaun and Khawaja put on 30 runs for the third wicket before Mohammad Shami had the latter with an incoming delivery. Shaun then combined with Head to bring up the first fifty-run stand for Australia in the match in a counter-attacking partnership. The duo added 51 runs in just 68 balls but the association was too good to last long with Bumrah ending Shaun’s stay. Both Khawaja and Shaun reviewed the decisions against them only to see the DRS confirm the on-field umpire’s original verdict. Shaun’s brother Mitchell Marsh too got out cheaply to Jadeja as India went into tea with their hopes enhanced.
In the morning session, India added another 52 runs with Mayank Agarwal (42, 102b, 4x4, 2x6), resuming at bed-time score of 28, just falling short of what could have been a second half-century in his debut Test. The Karnataka batsman, who looked the most assured of Indian batsmen in the face of Cummins’ hostile fast bowling, deposited Nathan Lyon for two sixes in the same over, stepping out and hitting the off-spinner over his head making India’s intentions clear. He was, however, cleaned up by a Cummins delivery that kept low.
Jadeja became the sixth victim of Cummins when the southpaw failed to negotiate a nasty short ball directed at his body, and the declaration came when Rishabh Pant (33, 43b, 3x4, 1x6) nicked Josh Hazlewood behind the wickets to Tim Paine after an attempted ramp shot.