On day three of the Sydney Test, Australia did what was expected of them: they got off to starts, made mistakes and eventually got out. Their application has been poor in the series, in stark contrast to what the Indian batsmen have shown. Perhaps that is why it stands out even more.
At close of play, Australia were 236/6 before rain and bad light forced play to be abandoned. The dressing room might have heaved a sigh of relief because Peter Handscomb (28) and Pat Cummins (25) had only just halted a procession, with Australian batsmen before them throwing away their wickets.
In this series alone, Australia’s batsmen have been dismissed 29 times with their score between 15 and 50. That is 29 times out of 66 dismissals that they have got a start and then given in away.
If one makes the argument that 15 is too early to judge whether a batsman is settled, then how about this: in this series, Australia have made seven scores between 30 and 39 - only once in their last 27 series have they made more.
It becomes even more galling when you see that their highest score in the series in 79, which was made by Marcus Harris today. No one has gone on to make a hundred that could allow others to bat around them.
Harris flatters to deceive
Harris played a particularly fluent knock on Saturday. He looked set for a big score on a wicket that looked to be pretty good for batting and then, he chopped one back onto the stumps from Ravindra Jadeja. It was another instance of a missed opportunity — a top order batsman got off to a solid start, looked comfortable and then was inexplicably dismissed.
Something similar happened with Usman Khawaja, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne as well. The Australian top order batsmen aren’t able to stick around for long enough to make a telling difference in the game.
“As far as I’m concerned, this batting group through this series has made way too many mistakes,” Australian legend Ricky Ponting told cricket.com.au just before start of play on Day 3. “Technical, mental, whatever those mistakes may be, they’ve made a lot of mistakes. It hasn’t necessarily been the first mistake they’ve made either that’s led to them getting out. They’ve made a lot of mistakes, then eventually got out.”
Their approach on day three was the right one. They looked to be positive but their shot selection remained poor as they collapsed from 128/1 to 236/6. The Indians bowled a disciplined line and length and Virat Kohli tried a few things with his field placements but it still doesn’t justify the collapse.
In 2018, Australia made just four individual tons, three of them coming in the first Test of the year — in Sydney, incidentally. In calendar years where Australia have played at least 10 Tests, they have never registered fewer centuries. The trend looks set to continue at least until Steve Smith and Dave Warner make their way back into the team.
Most who have watched this series would reckon that Pat Cummins has looked like their best batter as well. And they wouldn’t be very wrong. Since the start of 2018, Cummins has made as many Test half-centuries as Tim Paine, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Aaron Finch, and two more than Peter Handscomb.
India were good but...
Australia’s overall batting average in 2018 was 24.89, the lowest figure they’ve recorded since 1978. India’s bowling has been in fine form but Australia’s batsmen have gone out of their way to make things easier for the visitors and day three at Sydney was only a continuation of the theme.
“Story of the Australian summer really has been the way the Australian batsmen got out. Really poor shot selection,” said former Australian cricketer Mark Waugh on air. “The Indians executed their plans well no doubt but the quality of our batting is just not up to Test standard at the moment. The depth of batting around first-class isn’t really great. They’re all averaging around the same and it is very difficult to pick one. There is no one really standing out at the moment and breaking the door down.”
Now, all of this isn’t to say that the Australian cricketers aren’t trying hard, they are. But for the moment, there is vast gulf between where they want to be and where they really are.
India needed to make the most of the golden opportunity to beat Australia for the first time in a series in Australia and, so far, it looks like they have.
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