Struggling Australia throw away wickets in big run chase
SYDNEY – Australia blew a strong start with another top order batting collapse in Sydney Saturday, leaving themselves a mountain to climb to reel in India’s huge first innings total.
At tea on day three of the final Test, they were 198 for five with Peter Handscomb (21) and Tim Paine (five) working to rebuild after four wickets fell in the afternoon session.
Australia went to lunch at 122 for one but surrendered soon afterwards, losing three quick wickets for 24 runs with spinner Ravindra Jadeja and paceman Mohammed Shami doing the damage.
While aggressive rookie opener Marcus Harris blazed a career-best 79, senior players Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh failed to deliver when needed most, both guilty of soft dismissals.
India took a stranglehold on the match over the opening two days, compiling a massive 622 for seven declared on the back of centuries from irrepressible Cheteshwar Pujara and livewire Rishabh Pant.
They lead 2-1 after victories in Adelaide and Melbourne and are fast closing in on a historic first-ever series win since they first toured Australia in 1947-48.
Skipper Virat Kohli’s declaration left Khawaja and Harris to face 10 nervous overs before stumps on Friday, when they crawled to 24 without loss.
Khawaja was dropped by Pant behind the stumps on nought but failed to make the most of his second life. On a day when the Sydney Cricket Ground was a sea of pink to mark a breast cancer awareness initiative, he was dismissed for 27 after mistiming a shot off wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav with Pujara taking an easy catch.
– Stuck in two figures –
At the other end the diminutive Harris, who has shown flashes of brilliance in his short four-Test career, quickly found a groove with some crisp shots around the ground.
He survived a close call on 24 when a drive to a diving KL Rahul fell just at his fingertips and reached his second Test 50 with a single before smacking three fours in one Yadav over.
Harris went to lunch on 77 but added just two more before chopping a Jadeja delivery onto his stumps, blowing a glorious chance to press on and make Australia’s first century of the series.
So far, none of Australia’s batsmen has reached three figures over the four Tests, with Harris’ 79 the highest anyone has scored. In contrast, India have had a field day, compiling five centuries.
Australia gambled by picking inexperienced allrounder Marnus Labuschagne to come in at number three and he settled in well, cracking seven boundaries in a stylish 38.
But he was sent packing by a blinding reflex catch from Ajinkya Rahane at mid-wicket off Shami’s bowling.
Marsh scored a century in Sydney against England this time last year, but couldn’t match the feat this outing, tickling an edge to Rahane at slip from a turning ball off Jadeja. And the day got worse when Travis Head was caught and bowled by Yadav just before tea for 20.