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Australia comfortably in driver’s seat

Ahead by 326 at stumps on day four after reaching 261 for 7, Smith faces tricky declaration call

Australia comfortably in driver’s seat - Cricket News
Shaun Marsh remained unbeaten on 62 as Australia reached 261 for 7, holding a lead of 326.
India has not won a Test on this tour yet, and there has been much talk about respect between the two teams, but the proof of just how much the opposition has risen in Australia’s esteem will come on the final morning of the Melbourne Test.
 
Australia has prided itself for championing a brand of cricket where winning and entertaining underpin everything that is done on the field.
 
When the players walked off the Melbourne Cricket Ground on the penultimate day of the third Test on Monday (December 29), Australia had a lead of 326 after reaching 261 for 7, and yet the declaration is far from a foregone conclusion. In Adelaide, a brave overnight declaration in similar circumstances – the target set for India was a little bigger at 364 – opened the game up to endless possibilities. India responded with all-out aggression, and fell short, but it’s clear that it has made a strong point to the Australians.
 
Add to this the fact that Australia now leads 2-0, leaving India with absolutely nothing to lose, and Steve Smith will be a brave man to set India anything remotely reasonable.
 
When the fourth day began, though, India was far from safe, and 77.3 overs later, the situation had not changed drastically, one way or the other. In the event, it took Australia’s bowlers only 15 balls to wrap up India’s innings for 465, Ryan Harris providing a masterclass on how to bowl even when the conditions did not provide an obvious advantage. Harris finished with 4 for 70 from 26 overs, and the manner in which he approached the task provided the perfect template for India’s bowlers as Australia began its second innings with a lead of 65.
 
Being shown the way, and having the wherewithal to follow it and reach the right destination, are two different things, however, and Umesh Yadav struggled to calibrate his radar appropriately. Slipping down the leg side far too often against both left and right-handed batsmen, Umesh struggled to build any sort of pressure.
 
Umesh set the tone with a 10-run first over, gave away 8 off his second and boomed to 14 off his third to force the captain to take him off after a first spell that read 3-0-32-0. Fortunately for India, Ishant Sharma had been paying close attention to Harris, and produced the kind of performance that he should be trotting out on a regular basis, given the amount of experience he has and the quantum of investment the team has made in him.


 
Rhythmic as a thoroughbred down the final straight, Ishant ran in with verve and purpose, and repeatedly landed the ball on a spot where the batsmen could not confidently go forward or back. The manner in which Ishant used the crease to create different angles, especially to left-hand batsmen, showed that he was finally able to harness the potential that has for so many years gone unfulfilled.
 
R Ashwin, who has put heart, soul and plenty of thinking into his bowling while he has been on the sidelines of the Indian team, once again showed just how valuable he can be, even when conditions dictated that a spinner was unlikely to run through a batting line-up. Ashwin beat David Warner (40) in the flight to give India its first breakthrough, a looping delivery beating the defensive prod to hit back pad in front of the stumps.
 
Shane Watson was indecisive outside the off and this gave Ishant his first wicket of the game, Mahendra Singh Dhoni taking a good low catch. For the first time in the series, India saw the back of Smith early, and it was a piece of remarkable fortune. A poor delivery from Umesh, sliding down the leg, was spontaneously flicked and Ajinkya Rahane, at leg slip, dived to snap up the offering. Not long previously, Dhoni had put the fielder in there, as a run-saving measure after two balls ran away to the boundary.
 
Chris Rogers (69) left the crease kicking himself after he fell for a half-century, his fourth on the trot that could not be converted into something bigger. Leaning forward to defend Ashwin, Rogers only managed an edge that found the stumps via pad. Joe Burns wafted and at 176 for 5, an overall lead of 241, India sensed a chance to push back at Australia,
 
Shaun Marsh kept his wits about him, respecting the ball that threatened, mercilessly putting away ones that didn’t and ensured that Australia stayed ahead of the game at all times. The only excitement in the final session was manufactured as Mitchell Johnson got a bit of a send off as he departed, but this did nothing to change the position of the scoreboard. When stumps were drawn, Marsh had 62, Australia was 261 for 7, and India was looking at a target of 327, should an overnight declaration be contemplated. Dhoni will know, however, that India’s batting on the final day in Adelaide has all but put paid to the chances of adventurism from his opposite number.

To review the Australia v India match in full, please click here.
 

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