No better chance to exorcise India demons

Lehmann optimistic his nine remaining charges can practice what's been preached on the final day in Ranchi

If Australia’s carefully mapped India campaign is not to flounder and list in the hostile terrain that has claimed all but one of its predecessors stretching back to the 1960s, they must find a way to stave off a gutting final-day defeat in Ranchi.

So many words have been spoken, so much time and capital invested into preparing Steve Smith’s team for the very scenario that awaits them come Monday morning that it would be a dereliction of their duty statement should they meekly succumb.

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Like history suggests they might, but which the lessons learned from recent past failures in Asia, the preparatory work undertaken in Dubai prior to landing on the subcontinent, and the stunning win in the opening Test at Pune dared to hint they no longer will.

In short, the reconfigured Australia team under Smith and coach Darren Lehmann that has embraced a ‘horses for courses’ selection philosophy and eyed this Qantas tour as a defining juncture in Australian cricket will not get a better opportunity to prove they can play the game in the most challenging environment.

And that’s precisely the message that Lehmann imparted when he fronted the media at the close of the most deflating day his charges have endured since those dark hours in Hobart that brought them to the brink of crisis last November.

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“Obviously, we’ve got to save the game,” Lehmann said after watching India bat his team into the Ranchi dust and then grab two wickets with the new ball to ensure that only one team can win this Test.

“Tough to lose those two wickets (opener David Warner and nightwatchman Nathan Lyon) tonight, but they were some good balls from them (India).

“It’s a good challenge for the group to put it into practice tomorrow and we’ve got to do that and to deliver on the big stage.

“We’ve got to cope with it as best we can and come up with a plan, and we’ve done a lot of practice in those conditions.

“So I’m really confident they can do the job.”

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The job, in bald statistical terms, is to survive for a majority of the day’s mandated minimum of 90 overs while erasing the remainder of the 129-run lead India currently holds.

Thereby defying the home team the eight wickets they need to grasp a 2-1 series lead with a match to play, or leaving them with insufficient time to chase down any meagre surplus the Australians might manage to scratch out.

Should the visitors need a refresher to reinforce the drills and match simulation they undertook so studiously on a variety of wearing pitches at the ICC’s global academy in Dubai a week before landing in India, they could run a video of Cheteshwar Pujara’s innings from today.

And the day before.

Pujara's epic 202 flattens Australia

Perhaps not all 11-and-a-bit hours of it, but just some of the pivotal bits where he defended and defied and caressed and kicked everything that Australia’s overworked four-man bowling attack could hurl his way.

Including the verbal taunts, which he handled with equal ease by simply pointing his impotent tormentors towards Ranchi’s giant video scoreboards that carried his name for the best part of two days and ultimately flashed 202 next to his name.

Or closer to their own sanctum, the Australians might revisit Smith’s almost-as-epic 178 not out that spanned much of the bits that Pujara didn’t dominate over the past four days.

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And which many believe will need to be repeated if Australia are to defy their ineffectual history of batting fourth in Asia, and the anxious expectation of many that they might be rolled over before tea time on day five.

That belief is in large part built on historical precedent.

Only once across 20 Tests they’ve contested in Asia over the past 10 years have Australia batted fourth in a match for more than the minimum 90 overs that will be notionally required to keep this game from India’s steely grasp.

That instance came against Pakistan in the more benign conditions of Dubai in 2014, where they endured for 91.1 overs in the last innings before eventually submitting by a hefty 221 runs.

But the pessimistic perception of Australia’s chances of holding out against a now irrepressible India is also founded on the evidence tendered by the home team’s new spin threat Ravindra Jadeja in a chilling 34 minutes prior to stumps tonight.

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When the left-armer, who has supplanted his more highly-ranked spin partner Ravi Ashwin as the greatest current threat to Australia’s batting, unveiled a pair of deliveries that would have sent eyes scanning the floor and hearts in a similar direction for any rival batting team in world cricket.

The first was a 94kph stump-seeking missile delivered from over the wicket to Warner that bit in the rough patch well outside the left-hander’s off stump and spun at pace between the vice-captain’s bat and pad like a black cat darting through a rapidly closing door.

A dismissal that did nothing to quell the misgivings of non-striker Matthew Renshaw, as well as Shaun Marsh, Matthew Wade and Josh Hazlewood – the other left-handers who make up half the remaining wickets left up Australia’s sleeve.

While the ball that came early in Jadeja’s next over will have inflicted the same queasy unease among the right-handers, given the way that it drifted in towards Lyon’s pads from around the wicket only to grip and straighten sufficiently off the surface to fizz past the nightwatchman’s perfectly perpendicular defensive stroke.

In the space of eight deliveries and barely five minutes, Jadeja had achieved what Lyon and his fellow bowlers had laboured for all but one delivery (from Hazlewood) throughout 210 gut-busting overs across more than 14 hours without achieving.

That is, getting the ball to do enough off a pitch that is not quite a road but still remains well short of a goat track to beat the bat and hit the stumps.

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Lehmann articulated the thoughts of everyone who witnessed Jadeja’s brief but decisive spell this evening – and pretty much everyone who had not – when he named the series’ current leading wicket taker is his team’s clear and ever-present threat when the Test resumes at 9.30am Ranchi time.

“We’re going to have to come up with a plan to combat Jadeja, but we’ve worked on that and you’ll probably see it tomorrow,” Lehmann said.

“Once the ball gets a little bit softer it plays pretty well, so there’s no real demons in the track.

“It’s a case of obviously applying ourselves much like Pujara and (India’s other century maker Wriddhiman) Saha did today.

“But if they bowl 10 of those (deliveries like the ones that knocked over Warner and Lyon) then so be it.

“You’ve got to prepare for all scenarios here in India.

“As you’ve seen, the wickets start to wear on day four and day five.

“This has been a really traditional Indian wicket, a good wicket.

“It’s quite a challenge, but preparing in Dubai that’s what we did.

“And now it’s putting it into practice.”