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What will determine whether Australia win the fourth Test to draw the series and retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is the bowling, which has been a problem all tour
November 2, 2008
Australia dreamed of another dramatic come-from-behind victory, in the style of Adelaide in 2006-07, but times and conditions have changed. If they were playing at home there might have been a slim chance of success, but in Delhi there was none.
On a pitch that allowed 1190 runs in the first innings, Australia needed a miracle that not even Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne could have conjured to capture eight quick wickets on the final day. In the end they prised three victims before the declaration in the third session. Michael Clarke had eyes only for victory at the end of the fourth day and the new side's expectations remain high, but they are not so realistic.
Australia's batsmen did a fabulous job to stay in the game and the series ahead of Thursday's final Test in Nagpur. Clarke's batting was strong and, most importantly, significant contributions also came through Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Simon Katich and Michael Hussey. With help from the lower order, it turned into an impressive and comprehensive batting display. It is a good sign when they head south on Monday.
What will determine whether they win the fourth Test to draw the series and retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is the bowling, which has been a problem all tour. In three matches they have been unable to get close to taking 20 wickets. Here they managed 12, following the 13 in Mohali and 14 in Bangalore. Winning Tests is difficult if you have to rely on a declaration, and impossible if you can't bowl a team out on the final day. The assignment was even more difficult on Sunday as Australia still needed to bat for a second time.
Four years ago Australia received a gift with a green surface in Nagpur, which seemed to occur because of a cloudy dispute between the groundsman, the BCCI and Sourav Ganguly. With the series to be decided over the next week, a second Australian pitch miracle cannot occur and the bowlers must find a more orthodox Indian way through the home side's batting wall. The attack has continued to charge in and its effort is without question, but more is needed.
It's unlikely Australia will find the secret unless Stuart Clark is a menace, Brett Lee can fire and Mitchell Johnson returns to his form of the first Test. Not starting arguments with batsmen such as VVS Laxman, which he did before lunch, might help regain his focus. He never speaks that much off the field.
Even though India were 99 for 4 at lunch - a score inflated by the wicket of nightwatchman Ishant Sharma late on the fourth day - the game was gone, with India owning too many recognised batsmen. Even Johnson's lbw of Gautam Gambhir was fortunate, with the ball going down the legside. Australia required at least another wicket in the first session and when a quick end did not come to the Laxman-Sachin Tendulkar partnership only a draw was possible.
Once again Simon Katich, Australia's most part-time but most dangerous spinner, was not used in a strange decision from Ponting. Michael Clarke and Cameron White were preferred on the final day, with White deceiving Tendulkar and having him caught at slip. He has picked up Tendulkar twice during the series, but after his treatment in the first innings it is unlikely he will appear in Nagpur. Penetrative spin and pace are equal worries for the visitors.
Arguing over moral victories in this game will be pointless over the next few days. There is only one contest that matters and it begins on Thursday. Australia are missing a world-class fast bowler in all conditions, an effective spinner and attacking runs from their wicketkeeper. The McGrath-Warne-Gilchrist trio was essential to the 2004 success. Without these three elements the team is good instead of great. In India, against this balanced outfit, it is not good enough.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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