Australian bowlers fail to provide any answers as Paine concedes Starc is low on confidence
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Australian bowlers fail to provide any answers as Paine concedes Starc is low on confidence

Australia’s insipid bowling performance on day two has all but rammed home the sobering reality they cannot be considered the best fast bowling unit in world cricket as captain Tim Paine conceded Mitchell Starc was low on confidence and not performing to his potential.

After beginning the day with four wickets at a cost of 303 runs, the home side appeared bereft of answers on a flat track as India then piled on 319 runs for the loss of just two wickets before Ravindra Jadeja was bowled trying to tonk Nathan Lyon out of the ground.

Josh Hazlewood of Australia reacts after an unsuccessful appeal for lbw on Rishabh Pant of India on day two.

Josh Hazlewood of Australia reacts after an unsuccessful appeal for lbw on Rishabh Pant of India on day two.Credit:AAP

There were car crash figures everywhere you looked as all four frontline bowlers conceded more than 100 runs.

Statistics from the 2018 calendar year do not paint the Australian quicks in a positive light and it appears their New Year’s resolutions were lost in the mail as they were carted to all parts of the ground.

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Pat Cummins (0-101) and Nathan Lyon (4-178) both conceded the third most runs of any innings in their career, while Starc had the highest economy rate of the usual quartet (4.73) to finish with figures of 1-123.

Starc will have to wait – possibly a day, or maybe even until the first Sri Lanka Test at the Gabba – to snare his 200th wicket. His overall Test numbers are solid but there has been some stinging criticism of the left-arm quick this summer, particularly from Shane Warne.

Some of it appears relentless at times but the leg-spinning great defended himself on Fox Cricket.

“The bowlers, when you look back at 2018 and all the numbers they have put in for an attack that is meant to be one of the best in the world, the numbers don’t stack up,” Warne said.

“That’s facts. It is not a personal vendetta or anything like that. We have nothing against these guys, we are just dealing in facts."

Speaking after play, Paine said the team expected to cop criticism after lousy performances but he personally felt some of it was misguided around Starc's showings.

"I don’t know what people expect from him ... his stats for his whole career have been outstanding," Paine said. "When he is at his best, he is brilliant. When he is not, he is not so much. Again, he is not running out trying to spray the ball everywhere. That’s what I don’t get with the criticism.

"He’s down on confidence a little bit and I think sometimes people forget think he’s just a bloke who is trying his best.

"Has he been his best in this series? No he hasn’t. Has he been for a little while? Probably not. Starcy knows that and he’s working on it and he’s been really honest about it and he’s trying to figure out exactly what is missing at the moment."

Earlier in the day, Australian bowling coach David Saker said there had been “some confusion” amongst the group on day one in terms of plans and as a result, the coaching staff launched into an “animated” rant.

If that was dished up after the opening day of play, imagine the spray unleashed after another demoralising 77.2 overs in the field.

As India motored past 600, the end was not in sight for the Australians. That can be a scary prospect when the legs get heavy and the ideas cupboard is empty.

India's Rishabh Pant on his way to an unbeaten 159.

India's Rishabh Pant on his way to an unbeaten 159.Credit:AAP

Only needing a draw to clinch a maiden Test series win on Australian soil, India had every right to bat for as long as they wanted and grind a trio of Hazlewood, Cummins and Starc into the ground.

A third new ball was taken and with it, a 200-run seventh wicket partnership that came off 221 balls and did not look like ending.

A year ago in the Ashes series, the four frontline bowlers took between 23 and 21 wickets, all at less than 30 runs per scalp.

Sharing the load and contributing equally was perhaps under-appreciated by a cricketing public that is struggling to come to terms with how ineffective, at times, they have become recently on pitches with little assistance.

There is no suggestion at this stage changes will be made to the pace cartel, but if they cannot lift in upcoming fixtures against Sri Lanka in Brisbane and Canberra, serious questions need to be asked.

"I know everyone who has bowled a ball or faced a ball in this Test match is trying their absolute guts out for their country, so that is all we can ask at the moment," Paine said.

By the same token, excellent attacks can have their off days. Friday’s run-fest evoked memories of what happened at the same ground in 2004 when Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Nathan Bracken and Stuart MacGill could only watch on helplessly as India amassed 7-705 (dec) thanks to a memorable 241 not out from Sachin Tendulkar in Steve Waugh’s final game.

Whether Australia bowl again in the match is dependent on how their batsmen fare as well as whether India will refrain from pushing for a win and settle for a dull but demoralising draw.

Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald

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