Australia needs a miracle — or rain — to avoid defeat in Melbourne after India rammed home its advantage early on day four.
Pat Cummins picked up two scalps in the morning session to finish with career-best figures of 6/27 before India declared at 6/108, setting the home side a fourth innings target of 399 to win.
The Aussies got off to the worst possible start when Aaron Finch was caught from a rash shot in the second over before opening partner Marcus Harris departed later for 13. They went to lunch at 2/44.
Khawaja sent packing
Usman Khawaja unsuccessfully reviewed the umpire’s decision when he was given out LBW for 33 from the bowling of Mohammed Shami.
The ball was shown to be hitting the top of off stump and Australia crumbled to 3/63.
Agarwal goes off
Debutant Mayank Agarwal left the field after copping an Usman Khawaja sweep shot in the neck while fielding at short leg.
Khawaja swept the ball into the pitch and it bounced up and crashed into Agarwal, who was treated by the Indian physio on the ground before heading back to the dressing room.
Australia’s misery deepens
Australia sunk even further into a deep hole when Marcus Harris was dismissed for 13.
The opener prodded forward to a delivery from spinner Ravindra Jadeja that ripped back from the rough outside his off stump. The ball caught Harris’s inside edge and flew to short leg as Australia slumped to 2/33.
India burns a review
Usman Khawaja survived a close call as he did his best to be positive against the spin of Ravindra Jadeja.
He used his feet to dance down the track and slam Jadeja for four and a few balls later India reviewed a decision when they thought they had him caught from an inside edge onto his pad.
But replays confirmed the umpire’s original call that the ball missed Khawaja’s willow and he remained at the crease.
Fury after Finch’s ‘ghastly’ fail
WICKET: Finch goes for 3.
— Fox Cricket (@FoxCricket) December 29, 2018
Aaron Finch’s Test career is in jeopardy after getting out after playing a loose shot to Jasprit Bumrah in the second over of Australia’s innings.
The ball after surviving a close LBW shout, the under-fire Aussie opener played a back cut to a Bumrah inswinger but only managed to guide it to Virat Kohli at second slip and he was out for three.
“He’ll look at the replay and say, ‘What was I thinking?’” former Australian opener Michael Slater said in commentary for Channel 7.
Finch now has scores of 0, 11, 50, 25, 8 and 3 in the series, prompting ex-Aussie star Simon Katich to say on SEN: “That’s a terrible shot. I’d be very surprised if Aaron Finch is opening in Sydney.”
Commentator Gerard Whateley added: “It’s terrible batsmanship. He rocked back and as if giving catching practice, he fed it straight to Virat Kohli.
“That’s just a moment to have you shaking your head. Honestly, that’s ghastly. This just isn’t working with Finch at the top.”
Former limited overs star Dirk Nannes told ABC Grandstand: “That’s the kind of shot you’ll shake your head at for a couple of days. it might live with him for a little while.”
Finch bats in the middle order in first class cricket for Victoria and the manner of this dismissal will only cast further doubt over his suitability as a Test opener.
Oh dear. No words. #AUSvIND
— Scott Bailey (@ScottBaileyAAP) December 29, 2018
Seriously what is wrong with Australian batsmen? Show some fight #AUSvIND
— Adam Smith (@ajsmiddy) December 29, 2018
Turned on the cricket and immediately watched Aaron Finch play a woeful shot to get out that you’d be embarrassed by if you got out to in a one-dayer – if some of these blokes are Test batsmen I’m a carrot farmer 🥕
— Ben Dorries (@bendorries76) December 29, 2018
Finch doesn’t know how to leave anything. Wtf.
— Luke Girgis (@LukeGirgis) December 29, 2018
Three of our top six batsmen playing for their Test careers today – sadly one just perished 😩
— Darren Berry (@ChuckBerry1969) December 29, 2018
Mohammed Shami survived a caught behind shout when the Australians reviewed a not-out call but it didn’t cost the Aussies when Virat Kohli declared next over as Rishabh Pant was dismissed.
He was caught by Tim Paine attempting a ramp shot off Josh Hazlewood for 33 and Kohli waved his troops in at 8/106, setting the home side a target of 399 to win.
Pat Cummins picked up two wickets on day four to finish as Australia’s best bowler with career-best figures of 6/27. They’re the best figures by an Aussie quick since Mitchell Johnson took 7/68 against South Africa in 2014.
Cummins’ ‘offensive’ Indian tactic
Pat Cummins’ disappointment at Tim Paine’s earlier dropped catch was short lived when he burst through Mayank Agarwal’s defences to bowl the opener for 42.
The ball kept low and skidded into the stumps to give Cummins his fifth scalp and figures of 5/14. It’s his third five-wicket haul in his Test career and his first on Australian soil.
But the Australian batsmen will have been nervous after seeing the variable bounce on show in Cummins’ wicket-taking delivery. They’ll need to bat for the better part of two days to save the match — hardly an easy task on a wearing MCG pitch.
In his next over commentators speculated Cummins pursued an “extraordinary” tactic to keep Rishabh Pant off strike so the Aussies could attack the new batsman Ravindra Jadeja.
On the last ball of his over, Cummins bowled a ball a mile down the leg side and it was called a wide by umpire Marais Erasmus. Channel 7 commentator Simon Katich believed Cummins bowled it so wide as a deliberate ploy to prevent Pant managing a single to retain the strike.
Former Indian opener Aakash Chopra found it “slightly extraordinary” the Aussies would value Jadeja as a much easier wicket than Pant given he has three triple centuries in first class cricket and has a Test average of 32.44.
“Jadeja will take personal offence,” Chopra said. “He could turn around and tell Pant, ‘I have three first class triple hundreds in first class cricket son, you have only one.’”
But Jadeja didn’t do much damage on the scoreboard, becoming Cummins’ sixth victim when he could only fend a brute of a short ball to Usman Khawaja at gully for five.
Paine spills tough early chance
Pat Cummins almost had another wicket from just his second ball of the day, only for Tim Paine to drop a tough chance.
Cummins, who starred with four wickets in a blistering spell late on day three, induced an inside edge from Rishabh Pant in the second over. Paine dived to his right and got a hand to the ball but was unable to hold on and give Cummins his five-wicket haul.
It was the fourth catch Australia has shelled in the match after missing three chances — including an absolute sitter to Peter Siddle — in the first dig.
Marsh pinned as shocking fall from grace laid bare
The immense void left by Steve Smith and David Warner’s suspensions has been laid bare by a Test century drought and yet another Australian batting collapse.
Smith and Warner, who boast a combined 138 Tests worth of experience and have scored a total of 44 Test tons, have been sorely missed as they serve bans for the ball tampering controversy in South Africa.
Australia has passed 300 just twice since the Cape Town scandal, finishing 8/362 to salvage a draw in Dubai then combining for 326 in the first innings of the recent Test in Perth.
Usman Khawaja’s epic 141 in Dubai is the only Test century scored by an Australian since the Newlands nightmare.
If no member of Tim Paine’s team reaches three figures in Melbourne it will be the first time since 1991-92 that Australia enter the New Year’s Test without at least one player having posted a ton in the home summer.
Australia’s top six folded in the first innings of the third Test against India, surrendering in collapses of 3/29 and 3/13 on Friday. Embarrassingly, the Aussies’ top five is averaging less than the bottom six in this series.
Australia’s collective batting averages in this series:
— Brydon Coverdale (@brydoncoverdale) December 28, 2018
Former Australian one-day star Brett Geeves said the batting results should come as no surprise given the lack of quality in the top six. He took aim at Aaron Finch and Shaun Marsh and called Mitchell Marsh the “worst performed number six in the history in the game”.
At one stage during last year’s tour of India Mitch Marsh enjoyed the dubious honour of having the worst batting record of all number sixes in Test history with a minimum of 20 matches in that position.
He was dropped before being recalled last summer, where he appeared to cement his spot with two centuries in the Ashes. But a highest score of 16 in his past nine Test innings has heaped further pressure on his international future.
The West Australian has scored 1209 runs in 31 Tests at an average of 25.72.
A domestic number 6 as our opener. A number 4 who averages 16 across his last 17 test innings. AND the worst performed number 6 in the history of the game.
150 is a XMAS MIRACLE!! #AUSvIND
— Brett Geeves (@brettygeevz) December 28, 2018
Pat Cummins conceded “it’s always going to be hard missing two of your best players”, pointing to Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli’s output in the current series.
“We’ve known for nine months (that Smith and Warner won’t be available),” Cummins told reporters. “Others have to stand up.
“It probably highlights the class they’ve had in previous years but we’ve got find to find a way.”
Cummins is confident the incumbent batsmen, who will come under immense pressure if Australia loses at both the MCG and SCG, can get the job done.
“Everyone here is good enough. They’ve done it at the level below, all of them are the best (Sheffield) Shield players and most of them have done it for Australia before,” he said.
“We’ve definitely got the batsmen.
“Lots of boys have batted long periods of time this season. It doesn’t feel like anyone is out of form or anything like that.
“Hopefully it just clicks soon and we’ll be away.”
Peter Handscomb is the only batsman outside the XI in the mix to play the series finale in Sydney, unless selectors add in reinforcements to the 13-man squad. Handscomb scored 70 in his BBL return but Australia are expected to prefer all-rounder Mitch Marsh again.
The BBL is the only platform for Test aspirants to currently make their case. The Sheffield Shield’s mid-season break, instituted as part of the rise and rise of the BBL runs throughout the second half of this Test series but also a two- Test contest between Australia and Sri Lanka that follows.
With Rob Forsaith, AAP
Kohli nightmare on the cards
Virat Kohli will be sweating over his decision not to enforce the follow-on with inclement weather in Melbourne predicted for days four and five.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology there is an 80 per cent chance of rain on the final two days of the Test, which could help Australia secure an unlikely draw.
The covers have been on for much of the morning in Melbourne and the outfield was reportedly quite wet 45 minutes before the scheduled start of play.
Rather than look for the quick kill by sending Australia in again after bowling the hosts out for 151 in responded to India’ first innings 7/443 declared, Kohli opted to bat the Aussies out of the game and the tourists took to the crease again late on day three.
India will likely look for quick runs this morning before declaring to give itself enough time — weather permitting — to bowl Australia out.
Batsmen throw bowlers under the bus
Yet again, Australia’s overworked bowlers are hurting because of their teammates’ shortcomings with the bat.
Rather than enforce the follow-on, India skipper Virat Kohli presumably had one eye on the fourth Test and quite possibly a sense of schadenfreude as he invited Australia to bowl again on day three of third Test.
A three-day break between clashes at the MCG and SCG, presuming the Boxing Day contest runs until a fifth day, always loomed as a worry for medicos from both teams.
It is has now become a major concern for Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
A large chunk of workload management focuses on reducing the risk of injury by, wherever possible, avoiding workload spikes and ensuring a decent break between bowling stints.
Both red flags are likely to be raised in Melbourne.
Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins delivered a total of 93.4 overs in India’s first innings of the third Test, having combined for a total of 108 overs across the entire second Test.
Collapses of 3/29 and 3/13 from the top six meant Australia’s first innings lasted just 66.5 overs, giving the quicks limited time to put their feet up. Unless Tim Paine shields Australia’s gun fast bowlers on Saturday, they are set to be steaming in for a fourth consecutive day.
“Pretty tired … pretty exhausted,” Cummins said after play on Friday. “The good thing is that coming into this series is I felt really fresh.
“Hopefully not too many overs tomorrow and we don’t have to bowl last in this game.”
Hazlewood noted earlier this year that “only having 50 overs off and heading straight back out, that’s when it is really tough”.
“During the Ashes in the previous summer we had some good breaks, we made 600 a couple of times,” Hazlewood told AAP.
“That really showed when we got back out there.
“You need that as a bowling unit, to deliver your best stuff.”
Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins are likely to skip at least part of the ODI series between Australia and India that follows the four-Test series. Coach Justin Langer will be desperate to have the stars on the park but also acutely aware they must be carefully managed.
Any injury could have major ramifications for Australia’s World Cup and Ashes defence next year in England.
“The more we can look after those guys, the better,” Langer said before the third Test.
The situation underlines the thinking behind Mitch Marsh’s selection and why it’s unlikely that Peter Handscomb will take the all-rounder’s place in the XI. Marsh delivered 26 overs in India’s first dig, equalling his highest workload in a Test innings.
Bumrah makes his mark
Jasprit Bumrah is cricket’s proof that you should never judge a book by its cover.
At first glance, the Indian paceman’s short run-up and unusual slinging action suggest a useful line-and-length option for one-dayers or T20s. But the pearler of a delivery that skittled Shaun Marsh on Friday again emphasised that Bumrah is a Test spearhead of the highest calibre.
The right armer took 6/33, his best Test haul in nine matches, as Australia were mauled for 151 on day three of the Boxing Day Test.
Since making his Test debut in January, Bumrah has taken 45 wickets at an average of 21.24 and this was his third five-wicket haul.
He is yet to play a home Test, although this could be a blessing given how tough conditions can be for fast bowlers in India.
With the Australian second innings offering plenty of opportunities, Bumrah is only a fourth five-wicket bag away from 50 wickets in a calendar year.
“I’m not surprised -—if I don’t believe in myself, who else will?” he said after stumps.
“I’m really happy with the start, let’s see how it goes further.”
Bumrah also has excellent international one-day and T20 figures, prompting a big call from former Australian captain Michael Clarke.
“In the next few months Bumrah will be the No. 1 bowler in all three formats,” Clarke told Indian TV.
Indian journalists have a great anecdote that could became their version of a young Sir Don Bradman honing his reflexes with a golf ball with a stump against a corrugated iron tank.
When he was a child Bumrah would annoy his Mum with the constant double noise of the ball hitting the floor and the wall as he practised bowling at home. So Bumrah worked on making just one noise — pitching the ball at the base of the wall — and his lethal yorker was born.
On Friday, it wasn’t quite a yorker that dismissed Marsh. But it was near enough.
In the last over before lunch, Bumrah bowled five deliveries that were all around the same speed.
Then he sent down a looping slower ball that deceived Marsh, who was trapped lbw by a full toss.
The delivery had commentators raving about Bumrah’s control.
“The wicket had become really slow, the ball had become soft (and) nothing really was happening,” Bumrah explained.
“Rohit (Sharma) was there at mid-off and he told me I could try a slower ball, like you bowl in one-day cricket.
“The execution was good on the day, so I was really happy.”