SYDNEY: A ruthless India took a stranglehold on the final Test in Sydney on Sunday as they forced Australia to follow on at home for the first time in 31 years, leaving the hosts facing a full day’s batting to cling on for a draw.
Play started almost four hours late due to rain at the Sydney Cricket Ground, with the home team resuming on 236-6 after lunch in reply to India’s thumping first innings 622-7 declared.
But needing a win to level the four-match series, Australia crumbled to 300 all out, compounding the misery after some soft dismissals by the top order on Saturday as they stare down the barrel of defeat.
Indian skipper Virat Kohli sent them straight back into bat — the first time Australia have been asked to follow on at home since Mike Gatting’s England did the same in 1987-88, also in Sydney.
Marcus Harris, not out two, and Usman Khawaja, unbeaten on four, survived four overs before tea was taken early for bad light. They didn’t come back with play abandoned for the day.
Middle-order batsman Peter Handscomb said it would be ’huge’ if Australia could bat out the final day and salvage a draw.
“We’ve got a really, really good chance to shift some momentum back into our camp, not just for the upcoming one-dayers [against India], but there’s the World Cup also and the Ashes,” he said.
India’s spinners had picked up five of the six wickets on Saturday, but under overcast skies when play finally began on day four Kohli took the new ball straight away and threw it to his quicks.
It immediately paid dividends with Pat Cummins, who scored a gutsy 63 in the Melbourne Test, lasting just three balls, clean bowled by Mohammed Shami without adding to his overnight 25.
The recalled Handscomb began with purpose, confidently stroking two boundaries to move to 37 before swiping at a Jasprit Bumrah delivery and dragging it onto his stumps.
That brought Nathan Lyon to the crease but he only lasted five balls, out lbw to a full toss from Kuldeep Yadav.
Hanuma Vihari dropped a sitter when Josh Hazlewood was on naught, and it proved costly with the tailender putting on 42 with Mitchell Starc for the last wicket before he fell to Kuldeep, who was the pick of the bowlers with 5-99 — his second career five-wicket haul.
India leads the four-Test series 2-1 and only need a draw to clinch a first-ever series win Down Under, with Kohli’s men on the cusp of doing something no Indian team has managed since they began touring Australia in 1947-48.
It would be a deserved accomplishment to win the series with their batsmen — spearheaded by stoic number three Cheteshwar Pujara — a class above, and their bowlers brutally exposing Australia’s weaknesses.
So far in Sydney, none of Australia’s batsmen have managed to put together the marathon innings needed, with Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, and Tim Paine all out in the first innings to poor shots.
Harris’ breezy 79 — remarkably the highest score by an Australian the entire series — was the exception.
Unless someone gets a hundred in their final knock, it will be the hosts’ first century-less four-Test home series in their history.
INDIA (1st Innings) 622-7 declared (C.A. Pujara 193, R. Pant 159 not out, R.A. Jadeja 81, M.A. Agarwal 77; N.M. Lyon 4-178).
AUSTRALIA (1st Innings, overnight 236-6): M.S. Harris b Jadeja 79
U.T. Khawaja c Pujara b Kuldeep 27
M. Labuschagne c Rahane b Shami 38
S.E. Marsh c Rahane b Jadeja 8
T.M. Head c and b Kuldeep 20
P.S.P. Handscomb b Bumrah 37
T.D. Paine b Kuldeep 5
P.J. Cummins b Shami 25
M.A. Starc not out 29
N.M. Lyon lbw b Kuldeep 0
J.R. Hazlewood b Kuldeep 21
EXTRAS (B-4, LB-2, W-5) 11
TOTAL (all out, 104.5 overs) 300
FALL OF WKTS: 1-72, 2-128, 3-144, 4-152, 5-192, 6-198, 7-236, 8-257, 9-258. BOWLING: Mohammed Shami 19-2-58-2; Bumrah 21-5-62-1 (1w); Jadeja 32-11-73-2; Kuldeep Yadav 31.5-6-99-5; Vihari 1-0-2-0.
AUSTRALIA (2nd Innings, following-on):
M.S. Harris not out 2
U.T. Khawaja not out 4
TOTAL (for no wicket, 4 overs) 6
BOWLING (to-date): Mohammed Shami 2-1-4-0; Bumrah 2-1-2-0.