by Kobe Jacobs, ACS Journalism Scholar 2023
An opportunity lost for the Australians.
Disappointment is the only word that comes to mind when reflecting on what occurred on Day 3 of the Second Test in Delhi.
Given the Australians seemed to be in a stronger position heading into the third day of play, that play ended on the same day could be described as comical.
Others may describe it as a chance gone begging, knowing that winning a Test series in India is extremely difficult. Winning one Test in India is difficult enough.
It’s the fashion in which Australia have crumbled in back-to-back matches that would worry Andrew McDonald and Pat Cummins, who both have a massive year ahead of them.
Are the Australians too naïve to think that Test match cricket is an easy game, given their sheer dominance over the West Indies and South Africa in the latter stages of 2022?
Their performance against both the Proteas and the Windies was excellent, but we’ve seen the Aussies dominate on home soil before. That happens regularly.
It’s travelling overseas and playing against the in-form Test teams of the world that serve up the best challenges, and the Australian squad has so far let themselves down big time during this Indian tour.
It’s almost as though they couldn’t adjust or acclimatise to the Indian conditions, or maybe they refused to?
Opting to play the sweep, in a premeditated way, on what seemed to be an up-and-down Delhi pitch turned out to be disastrous for the visitors.
Marnus Labuschagne is the only Australian player who could consider himself slightly unlucky. No batsman should be copping a deadset grubber on Day 3.
However, his Queensland teammate, Matt Renshaw, who at 4/95 decided to sweep Ravichandran Ashwin after being bogged down for five dot balls, must have boiled down to a lack of game awareness or lack of experience in Indian conditions.
Both his and Alex Carey’s dismissals were unequivocally silly, given the situation the Aussies were forced into due to the early collapse of the top order in Travis Head, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne.
And the beauty of Test match cricket is that, in most cases, the team who usually prevails is the team that shows the most determination throughout the five days, in this game it was three.
Not one ounce of grit was shown by any of the Australian middle to low order and they would know that.
Given the Test match was well and truly in the balance, an opportunity to keep the Border-Gavaskar series alive was all but diminished within just over an hour of play.
But not only was it an opportunity to keep this much-anticipated series rivalry alive, but this was also an opportunity for the Australian Test side to push their case to claims to being the top Test team.
Day 3 began with so much hope, yet finished with so much despair and disappointment.
Had Head, Smith and Labuschagne dug in for a lot longer, this story might be rather different.
But reflecting on ‘what ifs’ tend to usually end in pain and misery in sport.
Losing five wickets for 34 runs within the first hour of a Test match is not good enough in any standard of cricket, let alone elite level.
Upon reflection, it’s hard to dismiss what the Australians did on both Day 1 and 2.
Usman Khawaja’s first innings knock of 81 was filled with patience and poise, which was then followed up by Peter Handscomb’s important cameo of 72 not out.
Nathan Lyon was brilliant with the ball, snaring five wickets which kept the Australians in a competitive position heading into their second innings with the bat.
Though in the end, Pat Cummins’ side couldn’t land the killer punch, instead Rohit Sharma’s men did.
India’s fight back in both Test matches led by allrounder Axar Patel must have felt like a sucker punch to the Australians if anything, given the commanding position they were in prior to Day 3.
A good sign for India, not so much for the touring team.
And as much as the result of this Test match will torment the Australians, they now have to shift their focus to the third Test in Indore, which indeed will be tough.
Captain Pat Cummins and David Warner have flown home which leaves a gaping hole in the batting and bowling line-ups.
There is now an onus on the squad to show their worth in one of the more tricky places to play cricket.
This is a huge year for the Australian Men’s Test team.
A win or maybe two against India to close out this series, while now undermanned, may just give them the confidence to push on and have a strong 2023 Ashes campaign.
But all seems a little too difficult at the moment.
Australian Cricket Society’s literary scholar Kobe Jacobs is mentored by writer John Harms. His pieces are also published at www.footyalmanac.com.au .