Smith, Lehmann seek elusive rearguard

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‘We need to combat Jadeja’ – Lehmann

Australia haven’t played in a drawn Test since a rain-blighted meeting with West Indies in January 2016. But to find the last time they managed to successfully bat themselves out of trouble on the final day, it is necessary to go further into the past. All the way to the 2011 Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo.

Michael Clarke, on his maiden Test tour as captain, made a hundred back then to keep out Rangana Herath and make the series safe. The loss of David Warner and Nathan Lyon in the eight overs before stumps in Ranchi meant that his successor Steven Smith needed a similar performance to prevent Australia from falling behind in the battle for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

Head coach Darren Lehmann said the team’s Dubai preparations had included discussion and training for exactly the scenario they found themselves in. “Obviously we’ve got to save the game. Tough to lose those two wickets tonight, there were some good balls from them. Good challenge for the group to put it into practice tomorrow and we’ve got to do that and deliver on the big stage. Once the ball gets a little bit softer it plays pretty well so there’s no real demons in the track. It’s obviously a case of applying ourselves.

Lehmann also emphasised the importance of combating Ravindra Jadeja as a key part of emerging with the 1-1 series ledger intact. The left-arm spinner was responsible for taking both wickets to fall so far, and was able to make balls explode off the pitch.

“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, I would think,” Lehmann said. “They’ve got to believe in what they’re doing as a group and a couple of good balls like tonight, that can happen in a game of cricket. For us it’s a great challenge. The challenge for our group is to put on a couple of partnerships and really get ahead of the game.

“You’ve got to prepare for all scenarios here in India. As you’ve seen the wickets start to wear on day four, day five, [but] this has been a really traditional Indian wicket, a good wicket. It’s quite a challenge. Preparing in Dubai, that’s what we did and now it’s putting it into practice.”

A possibly tired Australian team – Steve O’Keefe bowled 77 overs and Steven Smith had to deal with 210 overs of setting the field – was up against a seriously difficult task to save the Ranchi Test © Associated Press

Before this series, Smith had said one of the qualities he wanted to see in his team was the ability to scrounge a draw from a difficult situation. “Obviously you want to win first and foremost, but a draw’s a much better result than a loss. If the game’s dead and buried and we can’t win, you want to see the fight and the willingness to put your natural game away and do everything you can to stay out there and get a draw.

“That’s something we haven’t done overly well in the past. When we’re a long way behind the game and chasing 500 or something in the last innings, guys have still just gone out and played, rather than do what Faf [du Plessis] did in Adelaide a few years ago and just block it until the game’s gone, and give yourself a chance to survive.”

Some observers, including Clarke, have wondered whether the allrounder Glenn Maxwell could have bowled more overs, but Lehmann defended Smith’s judgment in relying heavily on the frontliners Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon. O’Keefe equalled the 18th longest spell in all of Test cricket, bowling 77 overs for three wickets, and at times the Australians appeared somewhat limited in their plans and tactics.

“I think [it’s the] captain’s call obviously,” Lehmann said. “We did speak about it, chopping and changing a little bit. The game was always on a knife’s edge so you always want your best spinners going. And we chopped and changed a little bit, probably could have bowled a few more overs [of part-timers] but I thought the spinners toiled really hard as well so that’s a call the captain makes out there and really happy with that.”

The physical toll on the pacemen Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood also had Lehmann pondering whether it would be possible to pick them for the final Test in Dharamsala next week. “When you bowl 210 overs, I don’t think that’s happened too often, and India do that well, they bat long periods of time here in India.

“If anything it heightens our first innings where we needed to bat a little bit longer. But the bowlers worked really hard and I thought they were fantastic. Chopped and changed as best as they could in the conditions. We’ll see how they pull up and make a decision. But we’ll worry about tomorrow first.”

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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