INDORE, India (AP) — Travis Head scored an unbeaten 49 and dominated India’s spin attack to spearhead Australia’s run chase in an emphatic nine-wicket win in the third cricket test on Friday.
India won the first two tests and was aiming to secure its spot in the World Test Championship final with a third consecutive win in the four-match series.
But Australia dominated from the start at Indore after dismissing the home team for 109 after Rohit Sharma won the toss and opted to bat, and then posted 197 for an 88-run first-innings lead.
Veteran spinner Nathan Lyon took eight wickets to bowl India out for 163 in the second innings on Day 2 and give Australia a target of 76 runs with three days to play.
Head and Marnus Labuschagne (28) steered Australia to 78-1 in 18.5 overs after Usman Khawaja, who scored a gritty 60 in the first innings, was dismissed on the second delivery of the day.
Head endured a difficult start, finding it difficult to score against Ravichandran Ashwin early, but accelerated his scoring rate and swung the momentum of the innings to finish unbeaten on 49 off 53 balls. Labuschagne finished 28 not out off 58 balls, hitting the winning runs with a boundary to long-on against Ashwin’s bowling.
India has an unassailable 2-1 lead in the series and has already retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. With this win, just its second in a test match in India since winning the series there in 2004, Australia has confirmed its spot in the WTC final to be played in England in June.
Chasing a small target, Australia started Day 3 in a commanding position but Ashwin (1-44) had other plans as he dismissed Khawaja for a two-ball duck. It was a testing passage of play for the Australians lasting nearly 45 minutes against Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja (0-23).
“It’s difficult when you’re facing one of the best bowlers in the world,” said Head, who was contentiously dropped for the first test of the series despite being the form batter in Australia, only to be recalled for the second and third matches . “For us it was just to make sure we kept a calm head and then put the bad balls away to score.
“I thought we did a fantastic job to come back from (heavy defeats) of the first two tests.”
The red leather ball deteriorated quickly and had to be replaced after 10 overs by the umpires, and momentum shifted suddenly in Australia’s favor as the boundaries flowed.
Head hit six fours and a six, while Labuschagne struck six fours, the pair raising a 50 partnership off 84 balls to diminish India’s hopes of an against-all-odds win.
The pitched turned sharply from the start but it was Australia’s spinners who made the most of it. Matthew Kuhnemann picked up 5-16 in the first innings Lyon took 8-64 in the second to spin their team to victory.
Rohit Sharma said his team needed to regroup and focus on what it did right to win the first two tests as it prepares for the fourth test starting March 9 at Ahmedabad.
“We didn’t ball well in the first innings. We have to do the job no matter the type of pitches,” he said. “We want our batsmen to put their hands up. One odd game will happen like this, and this game was all about that.”
India must win the fourth test to confirm its spot in the WTC final. A draw or a loss would leave India waiting for Sri Lanka’s result in the two-test series against New Zealand.