The Top 6: Paine’s tightrope; gutsy and bruised tourists; normal service resumes: Third Test Talking Points

India battle hard into the 5th Day to secure the draw at the SCG. Image Source: @cricket.com.au/Twitter

It’s been a series that has gripped us all right from ball 1, The third Test between Australia and India culminated in one of the tensest and exciting days of Test cricket in Australia in recent memory, with all three match results seeming possible – and some even likely – at certain points throughout the day.

Ultimately, though, it was a stoic and defiant sixth-wicket partnership from Hanuma Vihari and Ravi Ashwin which blunted the Australian bowling attack, despite evident injury concerns hampering the tourists’ chances of keeping the Border- Gavaskar Trophy in their hands.

The Inner Sanctum took a look at six of the key talking points to arise from the Third Test, in a match and series where there have been many.

A glance into the future:

This test saw five players with a combined 9 matches experience feature prominently across the board for both sides.

Will Pucovski’s long-awaited debut was nothing short of exceptional as he recorded 62 runs in his first international batting outing, losing his wicket to the other debutant Navdeep Saini. Despite making 10 runs the following inning, he has given fans plenty to be excited about after he reflected his remarkable Shield form at the international crease. 

While the first inning featured Pucovski, it was the second inning where all-rounder Cameron Green got his chance to shine. After making a duck in the first inning, Green bounced back to make 84 runs and helped see Australia to a lead of over 400 runs. 

The tourists handed a test debut to Navdeep Saini to replace the injured Umesh Yadav. He produced four wickets across two innings, playing a prominent role in their depleted pace attack.

Backing up his performance at the MCG, Shubman Gill contributed a half-century and 31 runs to India’s total. Following his consistent batting outings, it will be interesting to see if this is repeated at the GABBA, proving him a long term prospect for Team India. 

Bowler Mohammed Siraj continued to impress on what has no doubt been a rocky first tour to Australia. After choosing to stay in Australia following the passing of his father and being the target of abuse by the SCG crowd, the Paceman has overcome the adversity and took the wickets of Pucovski and Warner, finishing with an economy rate of 3.14 to continue a bright start to his Test career.

If this is how these players perform at the dawn of their test careers, then their futures for both Australia and India are very bright indeed.

Bumrah’s loads:

Jasprit Bumrah is an exceptional fast bowler. An exceptional bowler who is carrying a big load as the leader of an inexperienced pace attack. Only a 17 test ‘veteran’ himself, not a single one in his home country India yet, Bumrah is leading a vastly inexperienced pace attack, quite the opposite to his last visit down under when he was the young up and coming firebrand under the guidance of Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma.

With Shami and Sharma injured, Bumrah is leading the likes of Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj, with one and two matches experience respectively, is playing the role as a leader and calming influencer as he and veteran spinner Ravichandran Ashwin lead India’s bowling attack in the final test at The Gabba.

Skipper’s Moments of Madness:

Tim Paine felt the ‘tension’ like no other player, having an uncharacteristic performance with the gloves and the stump mics. he now appears to be walking a tightrope after a string of incidents this past week at the SCG.

On day two, the Australian skipper’s temper flared. Losing his cool in a foul-mouthed rant at umpire Paul Wilson, expressing his dissaproval and frustration of a DRS decision that didn’t go his team’s way. He was heard saying “where’s the f***ing consistency, Blocker (Wilson)?” over the stump mic to Umpire Wilson. A spray that violates the ICC’s code of conduct. It’s been over 24 months since Paine received an ICC sanction, avoiding suspension, however, The Australian captian received and accepted his penalty – a fine of 15% of his match fee and one demerit point added to his name. 

This, however, did not deter him from trash talking Indian bowler Ravichandran Ashwin during a drama-filled final session on day 5, coming under fire on social media for his choice of words in an exchange during the tense closing moments of the match. Paine was heard calling him a “d******d”. At this stage, he could potentially face another penalty for his language. Following this sledge, he proceeded to drop a crucial catch that could’ve influenced the game. Paine had dropped another two catches earlier in the day. 

Tim Paine let himself and his side down at the SCG. Image Source: PA Wire

The skipper, normally cool, calm, and collected, fell victim to the pressure and delivered a performance that is not one to be proud of. Let’s hope he can collect himself and deliver what we know Tim Paine can deliver.

Normal Service Resumes:

It took him 491 days and 14 innings, but Steve Smith finally has Test hundred number 27. It’s an odd thing to point out, but Smith has never endured a longer gap between Test centuries (barring, of course, the gap induced by his ban from international cricket in 2018). 

Perhaps it was the extended break between the second and third Test matches, a return to his home ground, or reuniting with family, but it was certainly a welcome return to form for Australia’s star batsman as he found his mojo on his home ground. 

Smith’s 131 highlighted his importance to the Australian team, dragging it to a respectable 338 in the first innings, compared to all-out scores of 191, 195, and 200 in the first two matches. Australia – and Smith – will be hoping he can repeat the dose in Brisbane, a ground he has also scored prolifically at, As Australia look extend their dominance at the Gabba and win the series.

India: Battered, Bruised but Gutsy as anything:

Following the humiliation of Adelaide and losing fast bowlers Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav to injury, The blows have kept on coming for Team India on the injury front. Spare batsman KL Rahul was struck on the wrist in the nets and ruled out of the series before the Sydney Test. Already running out of players, India’s injury woes have again been compounded. Blows to the elbow of Rishabh Pant and hand of Ravindra Jadeja occurred in India’s first innings, placing the keeper-batsman in doubt and ruling the star all-rounder out for 4-6 weeks. India will also be sweating on scans and a diagnosis of a hamstring concern for Hanuma Vihari, who battled through the pain in his match-saving rearguard with Ravichandran Ashwin, who was also in considerable pain on the final day.

While they have been unfortunate on the injury front, the resilience of this Indian team which continues to front up with grit and spirit is undoubtedly admirable and could go a long way to help them retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

Ravichandran Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari celebrate as they secure a famous Draw for India at the SCG. Image Source: cricket.com.au

Batting microscope still firmly on Australia’s middle order:

The return of David Warner and the debut of Will Pucovski were timely for a depleted and struggling Australian lineup, but the ensuing batting order shuffles perhaps left more questions than they answered. After opening the batting for the first time in first-class cricket in the first two Tests, Matthew Wade was shifted to a preferred middle-order position, Travis Head making way to accommodate the move. 

The common thought from pundits was that Wade’s temperament and seniority were the reasons for his retention, but after a questionable first-innings dismissal, which left third-gamer Cameron Green exposed to the new ball. Fans were left frustrated by Wade’s rush of blood and again, began questioning his place in the side. Scores of 13 and 4 in Australia’s batting innings – while others made more substantial contributions – would perhaps leave Wade fighting for his place ahead of the fourth test, though he may survive the axe pending the fitness of David Warner and debutant Will Pucovski who left the field on Day 5 with a shoulder complaint.

Despite being passed fit to play, doubts also remain surrounding the fitness of David Warner, the opener at times looking significantly under-done, both with the bat and in the field. The question of whether or not he’s returned prematurely is a big one, particularly after scores of 5 and 13, and a lack of typical energy in the field. With a short turnaround between tests, all eyes will be on Warner and how he pulls up as we head to The Gabba. A venue at which Warner has scored four centuries and averages 68.08 with the bat.

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