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Pitch provides hope in Australia's quest for last-gasp victory

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Expert
18th January, 2021
26

Provided Brisbane’s rain clouds don’t intervene, the Gabba pitch should provide enough purchase for Australia to snatch back the Border-Gavaskar trophy at the 11th hour.

Unlike last week’s SCG wicket that flattened out as the match progressed, the Gabba pitch showed signs during day four that batting had become a difficult prospect.

And there were four key examples that might have seen the Australian bowlers lick their lips.

The pitch showed its first signs of inconsistency in the 43rd over of the day, where a T Natarajan length delivery shot through extremely low to Cameron Green, to a height lesser than halfway up the stumps.

Soon after in the 48th over Steve Smith, who had looked largely in control of his innings, was undone by a brutal Mohammed Siraj lifter that spat off a length, crashed into his gloves and looped easily to Ajinkya Rahane at gully.

From there the pitch’s inconsistency became, well, more consistent.

In the 58th Tim Paine was similarly struck by a Shardul Thakur lifter than wrapped him on the gloves and finally, in the 63rd Pat Cummins was cut in half from a Siraj delivery that moved considerably off the crack.

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Of course the presence of a crack (or cracks) down the pitch often look worse than they play.

But according to Australian legend Matthew Hayden, that is part of their charm.

“Even if it’s just enough to put a bit of doubt into a batsmen’s mind, that’s all you need to disrupt their decision-making,” he said on commentary for Channel Seven.

Former teammate Shane Warne agreed, and said the pitch was now showing evidence of a traditional Gabba surface.

“Late day four is when it starts to play some tricks, and we saw it started to rear its head today,” he said on Fox Cricket.

“Those cracks started to open up a bit, we saw some variable bounce from the seamers, a couple off the cracks did all sorts of things…we also saw Washington Sundar get some turn and bounce, so there’s something there for everyone.”

The pitch, however, is just one factor that will determine whether Australia can regain the Border-Gavaskar trophy today.

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The much-referenced Brisbane weather, too, will play a significant role.

But a third key factor will be the endurance of the Australian quicks, who have shouldered a huge load in the last fortnight.

Australia's Josh Hazlewood prepares to bowl on the fourth day of the third cricket Test

(Photo by Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images)

After bowling 131 overs in the fourth innings at the SCG, the Australian were in the field for a further 111.4 in the first innings at the Gabba, and appeared tired as Thakur and Washington Sundar put on 123 for the seventh wicket.

Paine will hope the carrot of a series victory is enough to push his quicks through the pain barrier on day five.

The mental toll on his bowlers is also considerable, as Australia’s batsmen simply haven’t spent enough time in the middle throughout the series to allow them time off.

While David Warner and Marcus Harris started strongly on day four to reach 0-89, Pat Cummins was soon putting his pads on as a mini-collapse saw them slump to 4-123.

If Australia is to run out of time to claim series victory today, this period might be the one that costs them.

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The momentum that Warner and Harris gathered was sucked out of the Aussies as they were forced to recompose, reassess and build slowly towards a lead they were satisfied with, rather than push forcefully with wickets in hand.

Cameron Green stumbled to five from 40 balls, and India — as they have done since Melbourne — reeled Australia back just as they had threatened to get away, Siraj taking 5/73 in one of the series’ best moments and performances.

For Australia though, losing wickets in clumps has been the story of their summer.

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In Adelaide they went from 0-16 to 7-111.

In Melbourne they went from 1-42 to 6-99.

In Sydney they went from 2-206 to 7-278.

But there will be plenty of time to dissect Australia’s top six in the aftermath.

For now, there’s a series on the line, on what looms as an incredible day of Test.

In one of the best Test series of the last decade, we enter the final day with all three results on the table.

May the best team win.