Lick your lips for a thrilling Boxing Day finale

Ishant Sharma produced his best spell of the summer. Photo: Getty

Ishant Sharma produced his best spell of the summer. Photo: Getty

Third Test, Melbourne. Stumps day four. India resumed 8-462, trailing by 68. India 465 (Johnson 3-135). Australia 7-261 (Rogers 69, Marsh 62 not out; Sharma 2-49, Ashwin 2-56). Australia lead by 326 runs.

A discussion that popped up on social media during the rain break in the second session could prove pertinent to the final act of the dramatically poised Boxing Day Test.

Johnson out of line in spat with ‘hated’ Kohli

Aside from the fact that India are yet to win a Test in 2014 – and they are at least 327 runs away with just one more day of Test cricket to be played – it showed that the tourists have collapsed in some shape or form in nine of the 10 Tests they have played.

While Australians have been marvelling for years at the ability of their side’s tail to find runs, the Indian lower order have provided their fans with remarkably little joy.

Joe Burns has underwhelmed with scores of 13 and 9. Photo: Getty

Joe Burns has underwhelmed with scores of 13 and 9. Photo: Getty

The only Test in which they haven’t fallen in a heap was the drawn second Test against New Zealand back in February, where they managed to add 210 runs for the last five wickets.

In losing their final two wickets in 10 minutes on Monday morning, the damage for India from the moment Ajinkya Rahane was removed on Sunday was 7-56.

It’s a common theme, and it’s been one of the major differences between the two sides.

In the series so far, India have lost 6-77 and 8-73 in Adelaide, and 6-87 and 9-148 in Brisbane, before their first-innings capitulation in this match.

For the sake of comparison, Australia declared seven down and five down in Adelaide, added 258 for the last four wickets in the first innings in Brisbane, and 204 for the last four wickets in the first innings of this match.

In losing the last two first-innings wickets not long after the MCG crowd took their seats, India handed Australia a 65-run lead, which they were able to push out to 155 by lunch, when the rain arrived.

The eventual resumption of the middle session saw India bowling quite well, even with some semblance of a plan for the batsmen of the time.

Ishant Sharma

Ishant Sharma produced his best spell of the summer. Photo: Getty

Shane Watson (17) was again induced into pushing forward to an Ishant Sharma delivery, nicking through to MS Dhoni.

Then Dhoni produced arguably his smartest piece of captaincy for the series to remove Steven Smith cheaply. Placing a leg slip fine for Umesh Yadav – who did seem stuck on a leg-side line for the right-handers – Dhoni was rewarded almost immediately when Smith (14) tickled one off his hip straight to the waiting Rahane. Smith’s series average plummeted from nearing 190 to only 145.3!

Chris Rogers continued his run of half-centuries, making 69 before dragging a Ravi Ashwin delivery on the stumps while defending forward. You would now think four fifties on the hop has almost certainly secured Rogers an Ashes swansong.

Joe Burns might have a bit of work ahead of him if he’s to make the Ashes tour next winter, with 13 and 9 not quite being the return he and any number of Australian cricket fans were hoping for. Mitchell Marsh’s unavailability for the Sydney Test next week should see Burns retained, but he will need a score.

Shaun Marsh laboured in parts of his innings, but also batted quite well and patiently in the last hour against Ishant, who had the ball going reverse amid one of the best spells he’s produced on tour. Marsh finished 62 not out, his first Test fifty in Australia and nearly doubling his previous highest score at home.

While there may have been thoughts of a declaration earlier in the day, regular wickets throughout the innings put paid to that. Either way, an overnight or early declaration would still give India a very achievable run chase, while also being a more than defendable target on a fifth day MCG wicket.

The Test is set up beautifully.

But with such a history of Indian collapse in 2014 – some of it calamitous – Australia will have a real feeling of confidence that taking the top five wickets will see the tail again offering little resistance.

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