Australia v India Tests
Aussies' mood reflects mission improbable
Tourists' dressing room tells a sad tale after the day that all but saw the trophy returned to India
Andrew Ramsey at the HPCA Stadium, Dharamsala
27 March 2017, 11:27 PM AEST
Australia’s dressing room, which despite the heavy fortifications enforced by cricket’s anti-corruption officers and its strictly off-limits policy for all but the most VVIP of guests, has not escaped becoming implicated in the storms that have raged through this India series.
It has defiantly stared down accusations of improper practices, remained upbeat and resolute lest the siege mentality of so many previously dispiriting tours to the subcontinent take hold, and housed a genuine belief that this campaign would end somehow differently.
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But the Australia dressing room was not a place anyone would have voluntarily wanted to visit tonight.
The upbeat defiance, the sense of opportunity beckoning, the unshakeable faith that this Test in Dharamsala would emphatically end a decade of under-achievement in Asia lay on the floor like so many discarded towels.
The anger that so visibly erupted on the face and from the lips of skipper Steve Smith when the television cameras ventured into that sanctuary moments before Australia’s second innings ended reflected the hurt.
And sense of betrayal.
Betrayed by their own shortcomings, tripped up by the same traps they knew lay in wait and yet stumbled into several times during this decisive match, and ultimately undone by holes poked in a plan that had held pretty much watertight for much of the past month.
Of course, this Test is not yet lost.
Teams have been dismissed for less than the 87 runs that India needs in the morning with all 10 of their wickets available to them, most recently on the historically happy batting pitch at Lord’s where England skittled New Zealand for 68 in 2013.
But the fact that it’s happened just once in India, at Madras in 1977 when England bowled out the hosts for 83 with one of their batters (Dilip Vengsarkar) retired hurt, and Australia hasn’t managed it anywhere since Glenn McGrath scythed through a dispirited and disinterested Pakistan for 72 at the WACA more than a decade ago, underscores its likelihood.
Or lack thereof.
Such is the understanding that – regardless of the vastly improved performances in Asia where Australia has been essentially uncompetitive for more than a decade – a hard-won opportunity has been squandered, even the usual ‘it ain’t over until it’s over’ rallying cry lacked conviction.
“That’s stating the obvious,” Bupa Suport Team batting coach Graeme Hick, the Zimbabwe-born former England Test player, told an end-of-day media conference when asked if the outlook was grim.
“You can hear a pin drop in the dressing room.
“Very disappointing day, there’s always a chance until the final ball is bowled but it’s a hard day today.
“The boys are pretty down and they’ll give it a good crack in the morning, but I’d say it’s a tough ask.”
Indeed, raising themselves to mount that final potentially pyrrhic charge might prove just the hardest element of a campaign that was never straightforward, but through which the Australians had absorbed most of the bruises.
And there was plenty of those copped all round during a series that both teams ran through with elbows regularly raised.
But a feature of this tour has been the Australians’ capacity to lift themselves when facing duress.
To knock over India’s tail at Bengaluru, which created a notional shot at a victory target that ultimately eluded them.
And to bat out the last day at Ranchi, a scenario that has brought not just Australian touring teams to grief but so many who have arrived in India where the hosts have not surrendered a Test series since 2012.
In the end, which should arrive prior to lunch on day four, it was the age-old failings with the bat that proved the difference between an ebullient and a funereal dressing room.
As Hick acknowledged, it was the sub-par first innings totals at Bengaluru (when Australia failed to reach 300), Ranchi (where 450 still left them 150 adrift of India’s total) and at Dharamsala (after a dominant opening session) that hurt most.
And wrought the heaviest toll.
“Both sides have been guilty of it through the series,” Hick said in reflecting on a campaign that has been dominated by bowlers, and not exclusively spinners.
“You know when you come here, the danger of losing wickets in clumps.
“The hardest part is getting yourself in and getting that first half hour out of the way.
“I wouldn’t be critical of the guys who got out cheaply when they haven’t got ‘in’.
“If we look back over this game and one or two others over the series, we’ve missed our opportunities and left some runs out there in the first innings.
“So from 131-1 on the first day (in this Test) to only put 300 on the board, if we put another 100 to 150 runs from that first innings then we’re in the game tomorrow.
“While today was very disappointing, it’s not the only reason we find ourselves in this position.”
Those reasons will be explored further in the tour debrief, which comes much later in the grieving process.
Tonight was about reflection, and that told a sadly sobering tale.