Cricket-Australia bounce back to register rare victory in India
INDORE, India (Reuters) -Battered in Nagpur and bruised in Delhi, Australia flipped the script on a minefield of a pitch in Indore to register a rare test victory in India on Friday.
The nine-wicket romp sealed on day three of the third test was only Australia's second win in India in 18 attempts. It also confirmed their place in the World Test Championship final in June, potentially against India.
The magnitude of Australia's victory could be gauged from the fact that it was only India's third defeat on home soil in their last 46 tests dating back to 2012.
Australia sniffed victory after claiming a lead of 88 on a turning wicket and had only 76 to chase after India's second batting collapse in the match was engineered by Nathan Lyon's 8-64.
While it appeared a cakewalk in theory, Australia had to score those runs on a pitch where 30 wickets had tumbled in the first two days.
They got off to the worst possible start, losing Usman Khawaja before even making a dent in their target.
Ravichandran Ashwin removed the opener caught behind for a duck with the second ball of the day and Khawaja burned a review trying to overturn that decision.
Travis Head, who made a breezy 49 not out, counter-attacked to lift the pressure, hitting Ashwin for a six, and suddenly boundaries started flowing.
Marnus Labuschagne, who made 28 not out, sealed the victory with a boundary as the visitors romped home in 18.5 overs.
"They are pretty hard to come by," stand-in captain Steve Smith said of the importance of their victory, even though India are 2-1 ahead in the four-test series.
"For us to get on top in this game, particularly after losing the toss ... it shows the talent in this group and the belief we've got in ourselves."
Australia would be particularly pleased they pulled it off with a battered squad, and under a makeshift captain after regular skipper Pat Cummins flew home to be with his ailing mother.
Injured quick Josh Hazlewood had already flown home without playing a match in the series, while David Warner's tour was cut short when he fractured his elbow in the second test in Delhi.
BACKS AGAINST THE WALL
With their backs against the wall after consecutive defeats in Nagpur and Delhi, Australia responded splendidly in Indore despite losing the toss.
Lyon claimed a match haul of 11 wickets that also earned him the player-of-the-match award, Khawaja made a match-high 60 in the first innings and Smith led proactively to script a memorable turnaround.
Smith led by example on the field too, plucking a stunning one-handed catch at leg slip to dismiss Cheteshwar Pujara just when the batsman threatened to turn the game on its head with a gritty 59.
"It's probably my favourite place in the world to captain," Smith said.
"So I thought I did it well this week and it was good fun."
India will go all out for a win in the final test in Ahmedabad next week, an outcome that would confirm their place in the WTC final at The Oval.
Home captain Rohit Sharma said Indian batters would have to sort out their shot selection before that.
"If you look at the dismissals, we played poorly," Rohit said of their batting in Indore.
"Out of the 10 wickets in the first innings, maybe one or two was where the pitch did help the bowler a little bit.
"Other than that, I think it was the skill of the bowler to fox the batsman and get rid of the batsman."
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Toby Davis)