The New Year’s Test was Australia’s to lose leading into day five.
The hosts needed eight wickets in 97 overs to take a 2-1 series lead against India — several pundits predicting the match would be over before the tea break.
But Australia could only muster three scalps on Monday, with the bruised and battered tourists clinging onto an unlikely draw.
The Indians blocked, ducked and prodded for a whole day, with the wounded Hanuma Vihari and Ravichandran Ashwin surviving 42.4 overs to guide the depleted side to stumps.
One more wicket would have exposed India’s brittle tail, which featured three players with a Test batting average below seven and a one-handed Ravindra Jadeja, who suffered a fractured thumb while batting in the first innings.
So how did Australia manage to botch what many believed would be a comfortable Test victory?
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Firstly, dropped catches were once again a prevalent issue for Tim Paine’s men on Monday, and the biggest culprit was the skipper himself.
Paine put down two chances off Nathan Lyon’s bowling in the morning session, before spilling another opportunity late in the day’s play.
The Tasmanian gloveman gifted Rishabh Pant two extra lives at the crease, and the young wicketkeeper went on to compile a critical 97 off 118 balls.
Tim Paine reacts after dropping a catch off the bat of Hanuma Vihari.Source:Getty Images
“I’m bitterly disappointed, I pride myself on my wicketkeeping,” Paine told reporters on Monday evening.
“Haven’t had too many worse days than that today, it’s a horrible feeling knowing our fast bowlers and our spinner bowled their hearts out and gave everything to do the team.
“I certainly feel I let them down. I have to wear that, but I’ll get another crack at it next week so move on.”
Substitute fielder Sean Abbott also dropped a tough chance at square leg in the evening session, with Ashwin the fortunate batsman on this occasion.
The SCG deck also offered little assistance to Australia’s talented bowling attack. Pitches typically deteriorate as the match progresses, leaving an assortment of gremlins for bowlers to exploit on the final day.
But Monday’s surface looked more akin to a day three pitch, with last week’s rain potentially contributing to the slow decay.
Even when the second new ball was taken on day five, there was little to no movement through the air or off the pitch.
Despite the batting-friendly conditions, Australia’s bowlers were undeniably below their best in the second innings, specifically Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc.
Lyon sent down 77 overs in the SCG Test, finishing with match figures of 2/201.
The lack of left-handed batsmen in India’s starting XI exposed the tweaker’s biggest flaw — as revealed by CricViz in September 2018, Lyon averages 23.58 against lefties and 37.24 against right-handers in the Test arena.
Nathan Lyon struggled to make an impact.Source:Getty Images
English cricket journalist Jack Mendel tweeted: “Nathan Lyon was made to look incredibly average and easy to play … at no point did he look like winning Aus the Test by ripping through the Indian order.”
Test great Shane Warne also questioned the field placements off Lyon’s bowling on the final day, implying the Australians became too defensive when Pant went on the attack.
“I think Australia are panicking,” Warne said on Fox Cricket. “I can’t believe some of the fields I’m seeing from Nathan Lyon the last over before lunch — five men on the fence. Why aren’t we bringing these people up?
“I’m a little surprised by Australia’s tactics.
“How can Nathan Lyon bowl to Rishabh Pant the last over before lunch and have five men on the fence? That’s terrible tactics.
“That showed me Australia were worried.”
Meanwhile, Starc’s bowling was inaccurate and ineffective for most of the second innings, so much so that Paine denied him the opportunity to bowl with the second new ball, handing the responsibility over to Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
Veteran cricket journalist Robert Craddock penned: “Starc’s radar is scrambling to the point where he is bowling far too many leg-side balls.”
The left-armer did have two catches dropped off his bowling in the evening session, and his final burst with the Kookaburra on Monday was fierce and well-directed.
But considering he’s developed a reputation as someone who can easily clean up the tail, he’ll be bitterly disappointed to finish with match figures of 1/127.
Mitchell Starc’s radar was off.Source:Getty Images
Newcastle Herald journalist Xavier Mardling posted: “Starc doesn’t look like he’d get a wicket at Melbourne Country Week the way he’s bowling. Trash.”
Ultimately, India was too good when it mattered most, with its batsmen overcoming immense adversity to pull off the greatest escape at the SCG in more than 50 years.
Australia was simply unable to claim 10 wickets in 131 overs, which was perceived as more than enough time when Paine declared on Sunday afternoon.
However, sporadic rain and low over rates resulted in 425 of a possible 444 overs being played in the New Year’s Test. Would those 19 overs have made a difference to the final outcome?
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