Melbourne: A clinical India had Australia on the ropes Friday and staring at defeat in the third Test after skittling them for 151 before a devastating spell by Pat Cummins sparked the game back into life.
At stumps, the visitors had a formidable 346 cushion with five wickets left and two days to play as they inch closer to a first-ever series win Down Under. The series is currently tied at 1-1 with just the Sydney Test next week to go.
Once again the home team’s batting frailties were exposed as they struggled not only with a deteriorating Melbourne pitch but outstanding bowling from young pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah.
He ended with a career-best 6-33, collecting his third five-wicket Test haul having also achieved the feat against South Africa and England.
With a 292-run first innings advantage, Indian skipper Virat Kohli could have enforced the follow-on but instead opted to turn the screws and add to the imposing total. But his batsmen also found it tough going and they slumped to 54 for five, with first innings century-maker Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli himself sensationally out for ducks.
Cummins was Australia’s best bowler in India’s first innings 443-7 declared and was chief destroyer on Friday, claiming an amazing 4-3 off his first four overs. His scalps also included opener Hanuma Vihari (13) and vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane (1).
Josh Hazlewood chipped in with the wicket of Rohit Sharma (5) with debutant Mayank Agarwal watching the carnage from the other end. He was not out 28 with Rishabh Pant on six. None of Australia’s batsmen could muster more than 22, again demonstrating how much they miss the banned Steve Smith and David Warner.
Talk surrounding the pair’s reintegration into the team reached a crescendo this week after Smith and Cameron Bancroft gave tell-all interviews about the South Africa ball-tampering scandal, effectively blaming Warner. Their bans run out in late March. In overcast conditions, Australia began the day with eight runs on the scoreboard after surviving six nervy overs on Thursday.
But with the pitch showing wear and tear, it wasn’t long before the bowlers took advantage. Aaron Finch smashed a four off Bumrah in a positive start but once again Australia’s limited overs captain failed as a Test opener.
He was on eight when he feebly chipped an Ishant Sharma delivery to Agarwal at short midwicket, who took a difficult diving catch. That brought Usman Khawaja to the crease, just hours after his brother was re-arrested for allegedly breaching bail and charged with trying to influence a witness.
Arsalan Khawaja had been detained earlier this month, then bailed, after being accused of framing a love rival as the author of a terrorist hit list. Khawaja was only at the wicket for a short time before Australia’s other opener Marcus Harris also fell, plunging the home team into strife at 36 for two.
Khawaja didn’t last much longer, despondently trudging off for 21 after Agarwal took another catch close in off-spinner Ravindra Jadeja, who was finding the rough and causing problems. Shaun Marsh was then deceived on the last ball of the morning by some late swing from Bumrah to be plunged lbw.
The afternoon didn’t get any better with Travis Head’s stumps knocked over by a quick Bumrah delivery and then Mitchell Marsh tickled a Jadeja ball to Rahane at slip, with the last four wickets falling for just 13 runs.