Seven times in this series the Aussie lower order has come good
This Australian team has been slammed for more reasons than one. From being labelled the ‘weakest ever’ to tour India to the one that lacks the skills to deal with spin on dry wickets, this squad had to take all the criticism with very little to be said in its defence.
After all, it’s one of those rare frontline sides which has posted in excess of 400 runs in the first innings and yet lost the Test match inside four days!
Lucky with the toss, Australia has caved in to spin six times to give India an unsurpassable 3-0 lead. To make matters worse, the opening day of the fourth Test, too, followed a familiar, almost predictable script: Australia opting to bat and falling to spin.
The top-order may have been brittle and the middle-order ready to collapse, but the sting of this Australian team is firmly in the tail.
The inability of the Indian bowlers to mop up the tail has been as startling as its newly-discovered confidence to deal with the cream of this Australian batting line-up.
Consider this: In the seven innings so far, seven times Australia has managed to stitch together inspiring partnerships for eighth, ninth and 10th wickets.
On Friday, the 53-run eighth-wicket stand between Steven Smith and Peter Siddle was the latest addition to the string of lower-order partnerships that have frustrated the hosts in this series.
Interestingly, this was the third time when the eighth-wicket association threatened to undo most of India’s hard work done upfront.
In the first innings of the Chennai Test, Michael Clarke and Siddle raised 54 runs for the eighth wicket in 29 overs.
In the second, debutant Moises Henriques and Nathan Lyon frustrated the Indians for 27.1 overs by adding 66 runs for the last wicket.
India managed to polish off the tail twice at Hyderabad but, again, at Mohali the Aussie ‘tail’ wagged long enough to embarrass its top-order in both innings.
Smith and Mitchell Starc raised 97 runs spread over 26 overs in the first innings during their eighth-wicket stand. Starc, who scored 99, went on to raise another 51 for the ninth wicket with Lyon in 14.4 overs.
In the second innings, when Indians looked to be close to a big win on the final morning, Starc was involved in two partnerships stretching 34.2 overs and aggregating 80 runs — 36 runs for the ninth wicket with Brad Haddin, followed by 44 with Xavier Doherty.
R. Ashwin, the off-spinner who tops the list of wicket-takers with 25 wickets so far in the series, says: “At different points of time, different teams do this and if they do it pretty well, you have to give respect to them and not say they are tail-enders.
“Someone like (James) Pattinson has a good average of 30. You can’t call him a tail-ender. There are no more tail-enders in international cricket who come in, slog and get out.”
With the on-going ninth-wicket stand between Siddle and Pattinson already 42 runs old, and with Lyon to follow, the Indian bowlers still have a job to finish before the batsmen take the stage.