Australia blow away India lower order to level series
Australia 326 (Harris 70, Head 58; Ishant 4-41) and 243 (Khawaja 72; Shami 6-56) beat India 283 (Kohli 123, Rahane 51; Lyon 5-67) and 140 (Lyon 3-39, Starc 3-46) by 146 runs
Australia made quick work of breaking India’s lower-order resistance – a meek, thin, inexperienced resistance – to level the series at 1-1 before lunch on the fifth day. It was their first win since the Newlands episode in March, and Tim Paine’s first as captain.
Having broken the overnight partnership inside six overs with Hanuma Vihari’s wicket, Australia swiftly ran through India’s long tail, albeit with some intimidation thrown in against the tailenders. Mitchell Starc was especially fiery, going relentlessly at Umesh Yadav and co., and taking two wickets on the morning. Nathan Lyon was crafty as ever at the other end, and snared Rishabh Pant to end India’s chances inside an hour.
The odds weren’t in India’s favour to start with: since the start of 2014, only six teams had chased 200 or more in 124 attempts, and overall, India had gone past 287 – the target – only twice in a successful chase. With a sixth-wicket pair that had fewer than 10 Tests’ experience between them, and a lack of any allrounders No. 8 onwards, it didn’t look likely India would come close.
For what it was worth, Vihari looked compact in the first half hour of play, getting behind the line solidly against Starc, and using his wrists to pick up singles both in front of and behind the wicket against Lyon. But Perth’s extra bounce persisted on the final day and Starc’s pace was sufficient to make Vihari’s inside-edge carry to square leg off the pad.
From there, it was upto Pant to bat with a lower order that has normally had at least one of R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar to help him out during his short career. In the absence of all three, Pant couldn’t keep his innings going for long enough.
And Australia weren’t going to make it easy. The field placements were telling of Pant’s skillset, and how Australia had figured him out. For Starc, Australia had three fielders behind square on the off side against Pant – a deep point, a deep third man, and a fly slip. For a batsman who feasts on the front foot against bowlers on low pitches, this strategy seemed particularly stifling. Pant’s propensity to slash rather than drive didn’t help either, and for most of the early period after Vihari’s dismissal, a lot of his shots were either skewed or off the leading edge. When he made occasional brute connection against Lyon, the field was spread out enough for it not to be damaging to them. They were giving nothing away to a thin, nervous lower order.
They weren’t even letting them stand easy. Umesh was in Starc’s crosshairs, copping at least two bouncers on the body, and being put on his backside trying to slash at another. In the middle of this barrage, he saw Lyon beat Pant in flight to have him caught superbly by Handscomb at midwicket, and after a cursed 23-ball stay, Umesh ended up fending a bouncer straight back to Starc.
Pat Cummins was then handed the ball for one last volley of bouncers. He managed to get Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah with them, and in the space of four balls, India fell to their sixth consecutive away defeat in a chase this year.