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 — 15 wickets fell on Friday — 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.
“We wanted to play positive cricket, yes we lost a few more wickets than we wanted but we’ll try to add as many runs as we can tomorrow then we can come back and try to get them out,” said Bumrah in explaining the decision.
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.
“You dare to dream,” said Cummins on Australia’s chances of avoiding defeat, while defending what was arguably one of their worst battings displays in recent times.
“It’s still a young batting group. They are trying their best and I guess today it just didn’t come off.”
None of Australia’s batsmen could muster more than 22, again demonstrating how much they miss Steve Smith and David Warner, whose bans for ball-tampering run out in late March.
Cummins admitted they were being missed, but added that “others have to stand up”.
– Into strife –
In overcast conditions, Australia began the day with eight runs on the scoreboard 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 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 from spinner Ravindra Jadeja, who was finding the rough.
Shaun Marsh was then deceived on the last ball of the morning by some late swing from Bumrah to be plum lbw.
The afternoon didn’t get any better with Travis Head’s stumps knocked over by a quick Bumrah delivery and Mitchell Marsh tickling a Jadeja ball to Rahane at slip, with the last four wickets falling for 13 runs.