India v Australia, 3rd Test, Delhi, 5th day November 2, 2008

Batting lifts but bowling worries remain

Ali Cook
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

Australia's bowlers managed to take only 12 wickets in Delhi, following the 13 in Mohali and 14 in Bangalore © AFP

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.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vinay on November 3, 2008, 7:25 GMT

    Eager to see Brett Lee excel in Nagpur Test. The lack of a quality spinner has created a void in Australian squad. The big question is - Who after Warne?

  • Daniel on November 3, 2008, 4:38 GMT

    @ Rajesh.NJ: You've got to be kidding. The only Test India have actually won was the one Kumble wasn't playing! When Kumble went off the field with injuries India were instantly more attacking and threatening through Dhoni's leadership. Adding to the effect Kumble's bowling has been only slightly more threatening than Clarke's in this series, though he did regain some form at the end of the last match.

    Kumble was a wonderful bowler and a good Captain. The thing is Dhoni seems to have more presence and a greater instinct for the Job; Dhoni is a great Captain.

  • Mark on November 3, 2008, 4:28 GMT

    "I think the BCCI should make sure that for matches featuring one team from the sub continent the referree should also be from the sub continent. Posted by Majr on November 02 2008, 14:58 PM GMT"

    That is the kind of thing that is pissing off everyone outside of "the sub continent". You all think you should get preferential treatment. You should take the umpires and match referee's that are assigned and quit crying when they don't do what you want them to do.

    I don't know what Watson said to Gambir to make him lash out like that, but it can't have been anything too bad if he only got 10% fine, but no matter what he said, Gambir should control himself. The Indians sledge pretty bad themselves, there was an article the other day about Gambir chirping constantly at Clarke while he was batting. Clarke was smart enough to just ingore him.

    Gambir has proven he can't take it, so don't be surprised if he cops it more in the future, until he learns to ignore it.

  • Vinay on November 3, 2008, 4:24 GMT

    Kumble's retirement is related to his injury and it is a huge blessing in disguise, even more if India do not replace him with Harbhajan but with Munaf Patel instead. If Nagpur plays fast like in 04, India will lose unless they play three seamers. Sehwag is a good offspinner and easily good enough to be the no 2 spinner. Plus Dhoni can be captain again and he will go for a win not a draw. But dont underestimate the Australian bowling. Delhi was a dead pitch. Sharma and Zaheer failed too, in fact they got less wickets than Lee & Johnson. Lee & Clark are bowling better now, they have adapted. If they get good conditions, they will be a handful.

  • John on November 3, 2008, 4:06 GMT

    Are we giving India's batsmen enough credit? At home on pitches that they grew up on, is it so surprising that they are putting Australia's attack to the sword? An attack fashioned on bouncy but true Aussie tracks. Nope, no surprise to me that they're struggling without 2 greats in Warne and McGrath.

    I think Mitchell Johnson has stepped up and if handed the top mantle by Ricky Ponting will continue to improve and possibly become the future spearhead. But Ghambir, Sewhag, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly and a feisty tail deserve credit. It's an awesome lineup. The one real surprise is no Nathan Bracken. Bracken is a proven performer on these slower, lower wickets and his guile is sorely missed. With his niggly medium pace cutters Bracken turns the ball more than Cameron White!

    Let's be honest about Ponting - never a great tactician in the field he's being found out without a Warne or McGrath. Puzzling decisions will remain the norm. Great batsman and fielder, average Captain.

  • Kristan on November 3, 2008, 3:13 GMT

    I agree with most of this article. I think Aussie selectors should shoulder most of the responsibility for the outcome of this series. The Siddle inclusion is very surprising - Noffke, Hilfenhaus and Bollinger have been star performers domestic comp for several years. Most people in Australia had not heard of Siddle, its a bit like Pattinson for England. Why was Krejza left out? Its pointless taking him to India (which I still dont understand why Krejza was picked ahead of Casson, Hauritz and even Cullen) if he isnt going to play. I hope they make a gutsy decision come this final test by bringing Krejza in and Bollinger too. Maybe drop Clark and Johnson for this match as Watson will bowl first change. As for captaincy, Ricky stop bowling Clarke, use Katich and White more and use Clarke every now and then. Australia's batting is alot better (consistent) then India who have shown in previous series they are very inconsistent. However, India has the better bowling attack for India.

  • Ken on November 3, 2008, 2:50 GMT

    I agree with the writers summation in regard to the McGrath - Warne - Gilchrist trio. That is why Luke Ronchi should be elevated to the team. He is capable of Gilchrist like batting offensives and is Haddin's equal behind the stumps. He is also 3 years younger, which is a good thing in an ageing team.

  • Rajesh on November 2, 2008, 19:01 GMT

    Kumble's retirement may give Australia a psychological edge......... Just his presence was enough to create worries

  • chris on November 2, 2008, 18:06 GMT

    No issues with what's being said here. Just how its being said. Terrible writing.

  • Rajanikanth on November 2, 2008, 15:00 GMT

    Once cant agree with you more, Ali. After much chest-thumping post his century last evening, here are some bitter truths for the Aussie vice captain(and his mates)to chew on. Australia have never dismissed India for a score less than 300 in this series. They have not won a match in a series for three matches at a stretch, and this must be happening after two decades at least. Their bowlers have "scored" more centuries than their batsmen. They have hardly ever scored 100 in a single session in this series. In the best and most consistent pitch available during this series, they managed to lose by the small matter of 320 runs. Going with the current trend, they are likely to take even lesser wickets in Nagpur.Field placements on a day of possible victory were the most perplexing. Ricky Ponting's pre-series comments on playing "new-age cricket" must surely go down as one of the best examples of "foot in mouth" and will also go down soon as a popular Aussie bar joke.

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