Australia face tough task to save final Test against India

India again dominated at the SCG and now look certain to claim their first series win on Australian soil. (AFP)
Updated 05 January 2019
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Australia face tough task to save final Test against India

  • Baggy Greens throw away wickets after strong start to first start in Sydney .
  • India on verge of making history with first Test series win Down Under.

SYDNEY: Australia blew a strong start with yet another top order batting collapse in Sydney Saturday, leaving themselves a mountain to climb to stay in the fourth and final Test against India.

When play was abandoned half an hour early due to rain, they were 236 for six, still 386 behind with Peter Handscomb (28) and Pat Cummins (25) fighting a rearguard action after some soft dismissals plunged the hosts into deep trouble.

Australia went to lunch at 122 for one but meekly surrendered soon afterwards, losing three wickets for 24 runs, with spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav doing the damage.

Yadav ended with three for 71 and Jadeja tow for 62.

While aggressive rookie opener Marcus Harris blazed a career-best 79, senior players Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and skipper Tim Paine all failed to deliver when needed most.

“I got a start and a few of us got a start but none of us went on to get a big score so it’s pretty simple to work out what went wrong,” said Harris.

“We’re a young group and we’re trying to work it out and think on our feet but we’re playing against the number one side in the world, so it’s not like it’s an easy thing to do.”

Despite the task ahead, Harris remained optimistic.

“Obviously 600 is a big score to chase down or get a close deficit, but I think the more time we can occupy the crease, you never know what can happen.”

India took a stranglehold on the match over the opening two days, compiling a huge 622 for seven declared on the back of centuries from irrepressible Cheteshwar Pujara and livewire Rishabh Pant.

They lead 2-1 after victories in Adelaide and Melbourne and are fast closing in on a historic first-ever series win since they first toured Australia in 1947-48.

Yadav said India’s fielding and catching practice was paying off.

“I feel like we are the best side in the world now when it comes to fielding,” he said.

Skipper Virat Kohli’s declaration left Khawaja and Harris to face 10 nervous overs before stumps on Friday, when they crawled to 24 without loss.

Khawaja was dropped on nought but failed to make the most of his second life.

On a day when the Sydney Cricket Ground was a sea of pink to mark a breast cancer awareness initiative, he was dismissed for 27 after mistiming a shot off Yadav with Pujara taking an easy catch.

STUCK IN TWO FIGURES

At the other end the diminutive Harris, who has shown flashes of brilliance in his short four-Test career, quickly found a groove with some crisp shots.

He survived a close call on 24 when a diving KL Rahul narrowly missed a catch and reached his second Test 50 with a single before smacking three fours in one Yadav over.

Harris went to lunch on 77 but added just two more before chopping a Jadeja delivery onto his stumps, blowing a glorious chance to press on and make Australia’s first century of the series.

So far, none of Australia’s batsmen has reached three figures over the four Tests, with Harris’ 79 the highest anyone has scored. In contrast, India have had a field day, compiling five centuries.

Australia gambled by picking inexperienced allrounder Marnus Labuschagne to come in at number three and he settled in well, cracking seven boundaries in a stylish 38.

But he was sent packing by a blinding reflex catch from Ajinkya Rahane at mid-wicket off Mohammed Shami’s bowling.

Marsh scored a century in Sydney against England this time last year, but was out for eight, tickling an edge to Rahane at slip from a turning Jadeja ball.

The day got worse when Travis Head was caught and bowled by Yadav just before tea for 20 and as storm clouds gathered overhead Yadav clean bowled Paine for five.

It was left to Handscomb, recalled as a specialist in tackling spin, and paceman Cummins, who made a gutsy 63 in the third Melbourne Test, to try and repair the damage.


Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

Updated 18 January 2019
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Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

  • Sharapova dumps out defending champion Caroline Wozniacki.
  • Rafa and Roger brush aside young guns in straight sets victories.

LONDON: It is coming up to the end of the first week of the Australian Open, so we thought we would take a look and see how some of the big names fared on day five of the year’s first Grand Slam.

MARIA SHARAPOVA

Maria Sharapova warned she is in the sort of form to win the Australian Open after she dumped Carolina Wozniacki out with an impressive 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win. It was the Russian’s best win since her return from a drugs ban and she looked like a winner-in-waiting.
“I thought the level was quite high. I knew I’d get a tough match — she (Wozniacki) is the defending champion,” the five-time Slam champion said.
“I haven’t played many matches in the last year against top players so it was really rewarding to win that last set. These are the kinds of matches I train for.”



ROGER FEDERER

Ageless Roger Federer marked his 100th Rod Laver Arena match Friday by storming past Taylor Fritz, then looked forward to a “high quality” last-16 clash against another young gun, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion continued his quest for a record seventh Australian Open title with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 third-round demolition of 21-year-old American Fritz in just 88 minutes of flawless tennis.
Next up is 14th seed Tsitsipas. And the 37-year-old Federer is looking forward to taking on the fiery young Greek, who is 17 years his junior.
Federer played him in the recent mixed teams Hopman Cup, winning a closely contested singles 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4), and said he was impressed.
“I think he played really well there. I actually did too. I thought it was really high quality tennis,” Federer said.
“This is obviously a different type of match, it being best of five, it being a fourth round of a Slam.”



RAFAEL NADAL

Rafael Nadal declared “everything is a step forward” after brutally brushing aside Alex de Minaur at the Australian Open Friday in just the Spaniard’s third match since the US Open.
The world No. 2 was in ominous form as he continued his quest for an 18th Grand Slam by punishing the Australian teenager in a third-round tennis masterclass 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
“In general terms, everything is a step forward. So that’s positive news for me,” said the man who won the Aussie Open in 2009.
“I’m very happy for the victory against someone who had won seven matches in a row, winning a tournament.”
On his fitness Nadal added: “Probably 10 years ago it would have been difficult not playing much tennis in the build-up but now I have been in this situation many times with the injuries I have had.
“I have to deal with the ups and downs of my body but I try to enjoy any moment on the court.”



MARIN CILIC

The former US Open champions was made to work for his place in the last 16 as he struggled to beat Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3. Verdasco showed glimpses of the form that once made him a top-10 player and had a match point, one he frittered away with a double fault.
I was just slightly luckier in those crucial moments,” the sixth-seeded Cilic said.
“(It is) unbelievable. Emotions were up and down,” Cilic said.
“When I was down two sets to none, it was a big hill to climb.”
It’s the seventh time in Cilic’s career that he has emerged to win a match after dropping the opening two sets.



ANGELIQUE KERBER

Second seed Kerber received a gift ride into the Australian Open fourth round for her 31st birthday when she overpowered local wildcard Kimberly Birrell 6-1, 6-0.
The Wimbledon champion swept world No. 240 Birrell aside in just 58 minutes to set up a last-16 clash with unseeded American Danielle Collins.
Kerber, a winner at Melbourne Park in 2016, said she was used to celebrating her birthday on the road at the season-opening Grand Slam.
“I think it’s the 12th time in a row,” she said. “I’m getting older but I have the best time here and I’ll never forget my birthdays here in Australia.”
Kerber reached the semifinals last year but lost to Simona Halep in a tight three-setter.