Nathan Lyon has bowled Australia into the land of hopes and dreams.
A rare and profound victory in India awaits on Friday if Australia can hold their collective nerve on what Matthew Hayden described as an “horrendous” Indore pitch.
Nathan Lyon claimed eight wickets as India set Australia just 76 for victory.Credit:Getty Images
Should Australia make the 76 runs required for victory, their achievement will be the stuff of ticker-tape parades. India’s pitch-doctoring ambush hasn’t yet backfired, but it’s close.
Success would just be Australia’s second win in India since 2004, and only the third time India have been beaten at home in 45 Tests going back a decade. Australia would have claimed two of the those victories and England one.
It would leave Australia trailing 1-2 with a Test to play, ensuring a drawn series remains a live possibility. This would also be an achievement of some significance. Australia have lost nine of their last 11 series in India, including the last five in a row.
The last time they won two Tests in India, John Howard was prime minister and Facebook was being launched.
Srikar Bharat is bowled by Nathan Lyon.Credit:Getty Images
Victory would also sew up Australia’s position in the World Test Championship final against India at The Oval during early June.
Australia are in this position courtesy of Nathan Lyon’s 8-64, giving him 11 wickets in the match and more than 50 wickets in India.
But the ageless workhorse has been aided and abetted by two rookies, Todd Murphy and Matt Kuhnemann, who arrived as boys on a mission for men and have grown up quickly.
Regardless of what happens from here, they will go home with remarkable performances against their name. Murphy was outstanding on debut in Delhi, claiming first innings figures of 7-124, and Kuhnemann equally so during the first innings of this match with 5-16, as India were bowled out for 109 after winning the toss and batting.
Kuhnemann appeared tired during India second innings on Thursday, copping some late hammer as the left arm tweaker began to lose his length.
This should be no surprise given he played just two of Queensland’s first seven Sheffield Shield matches this season. Experienced leg-spinner Mitch Swepson, who is sitting on the sidelines in India between returning for the birth his first child, was Queensland’s preferred Shield spinner.
Australia have jagged period of control on this tour before only for their dreams to be dashed on the rocks of reality.
Matt Kuhnemann had first innings figures of 5-16Credit:Getty
The possibilities have been mouthwatering, the anticipation uplifting, then the unravelling deflating.
Recent history has not been kind, although Australia have not been this close.
It’s the weight of those first two Test failures combined with the crumbling pitch which will ask questions of skill and mental fortitude which Australia have so far failed to answer when it has mattered most.
They had the chance to bat India out of the game at 4/186 on Thursday. A cup of tea later and Australia were all out 197, losing 6-11.
Still a first innings lead of 88 in these conditions is significant, although this chase comes with trepidation.
In the first Test, Australia failed to cash in after batting first, struggling to 177 in Nagpur before having India 5-168. Game on became game over as India’s tail wagged the home side to 400, Australia capitulated for 91 and the result was an innings and 132-run loss.
Two days into the Delhi Test and the recalled Travis Head was flying as an opener. Australia resumed at 1/61, a lead of 62, and could have batted India out of the game. Inside Australia lost 8/28 thanks to sweep mania, and were bowled out for 113 to lose by six wickets.
At least Australia have been creeping closer each time, suggesting another fortnight’s preparation may well have had them more competitive from the outset.
And this time they can dare to dream.
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