Challenging run chase looms for Australia as India turn the screws

Australia's "kids" will need to grow up in a hurry after the full toll of the hosts' failure with the bat became apparent on Saturday, as India tightened their grip on the first Test.

On a day interrupted by rain, India claimed the points for the second consecutive day as a match which was once firmly in Australia's favour is now slowly slipping away.

The scoreboard might suggest otherwise but this is an Australian side for whom big scores have proven the exception rather than the rule.

The spectre of Ravi Ashwin looms large on a pitch which Nathan Lyon extracted sharp turn and bounce on the third day.


Australia began the day in what Ravi Ashwin described perhaps a little conservatively, as a "neck and neck" battle. They are now chasing India's tail.

The horse has by no means bolted but it will take a display of considerable skill and fortitude by Australia's inexperienced batsmen if they are to find the finishing post first.

Lyon lifted spirits with the prized wicket of Virat Kohli late in the day – he has now dismissed the Indian great more than any other player – but there remains much work to do for Tim Paine's attack.

The bowlers are fighting hard but the cricket gods are not smiling.

The decision review system – which India railed hard against – has twice saved Cheteshwar Pujara, though, it must be said, the right call was eventually made each time.

India's batsmen were sloppy in their first innings but have shown more application the second time.

KL Rahul was bold against the new ball while Pujara and Kohli employed the Paul Keating method: doing their opponent slowly.

At their throats: Australian captain Tim Paine checks on Aaron Finch after he was hit in the throat.

At their throats: Australian captain Tim Paine checks on Aaron Finch after he was hit in the throat.Credit:Dave Hunt

In a match where runs have been likened to "gold dust", India's lead, having reached 3/151 at stumps, is 166. Any target past 200 will prove challenging to run down. Get north of 250 and Australia's batsmen would be hard pressed to even imagine a win.

Coach Justin Langer called for patience with the top six, which includes a debutant, a pair of third-gamers and another in his first match back from the wilderness.

"We've literally got kids when it comes to Test cricket," he told SEN.

Though they may be in prep when it comes to the school of Test cricket, they will need to skip a few grades if they are to get Australia home.

Travis Head showed that it's possible to play beyond your years. Though he could not complete a Boy's Own century on his home ground, his 72 is proof what can be possible by batting with smarts and discipline.

The example for Australia has been provided by Pujara, who after making a game-defining ton on Thursday knuckled down again against an attack lacking the freshness they had first up.

Though Pujara's game is naturally suited to the conditions, it requires considerable temperament to resist extravagance when the scoreboard is not ticking along.

"The way [Pujara] played in the first innings was the blueprint for how to play on this wicket," Head said.

"Driving the ball early on day one is hard work against the new ball. He didn't do that, he had a good even game, forward defence and picked off his runs. As the ball got softer he got more and more runs."

Kohli learned the lessons from his first innings dismissal, limiting the type of expansive drives that brought about his demise.

He became the fourth man from his country to score 1000 runs in Australia, but being the first man to lead India to victory on these shores is how he wants to be remembered.

Australia resumed on 7/191 with the strong belief they could generate a handy first-innings lead. Their tail was up for the fight too.

Mitchell Starc saved the booming drives for balls pitched well up and landed some well timed strikes down the ground. That changed when he reached 15 and swung hard at a well pitched up delivery from Jasprit Bumrah which moved away slightly and clipped the outside edge.

Lyon showed his customary grit at the crease as well as some dashing strokeplay, including a hook for six against Mohammad Shami. So well was Lyon playing, Head had enough confidence to let the No.10 farm the strike. The faith was well placed. He was unbeaten on 24.

The end, however, came swiftly for Australia. Head went fishing outside off stump, an urge he had suppressed, and was caught behind.

Josh Hazlewood went next ball, attempting a drive on the up that was well beyond his limitations, leaving Shami on a hat-trick in Australia's second innings.

Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald

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