Australia v India – Fourth Test: Who will endure?

‘Harry, Lord Reserve Carnegie’ – Kate Birrell


The end of lengthy cricket tours have traditionally been difficult to manage for those doing the touring. Thoughts of home and family can diminish focus. Hotel fatigue sets in. The ability of a touring party to remain on task is one of the more telling measures of leadership. In this summer of quarantine bubbles, this has applied equally to the home side as well as the visitors. Modern international cricket’s endlessly competing commercial priorities have only exacerbated the situation by extending the quarantine periods required.


As compelling as the Sydney test was for its cricket, it was as telling for the behavior of the two teams. Having fought back magnificently in Melbourne, India’s wrangling over venues initially appeared to indicate possible loss of focus. They certainly started poorly. Ajinkya Rahane lacked the strategic nous he’d shown in Melbourne. The normally implacable Jasprit Bumrah looked grumpy, even before team mates started dropping catches. With injuries mounting through the game, India were in serious trouble after three days.


Australia, on the other hand, had looked rejuvenated. Its batting buoyed by the inclusion of Will Pucovski, and especially by the emphatic return to form of Steve Smith, the hosts pace attack looked set to dominate the game on a wicket offering unreliable bounce. But with the benefit of hindsight, a few warning signs for Australia lay in the uncharacteristic irritability of its captain, Tim Paine.


As we know, expectations were upended on those last two days in Sydney. Unexpectedly, the wicket flattened out. Australia’s batting meandered on the fourth morning. It only attained its desired urgency in the afternoon, when Paine himself came to the wicket, encouraging Cam Green to open his shoulders. Nevertheless, a declaration setting India 407 in four sessions looked more than sufficient to claim the victory.


It wasn’t to be.


Since they were bowled out for 36 in Adelaide, this Indian side has shown admirable resilience. The leadership within the group has been impressive, as has their depth of talent. Even so, they needed the assistance of their opponents to survive Sydney’s final day. Australia created enough chances to win, they just couldn’t take them.


As is his usual way, Tim Paine has been pretty open about how he fared on that last day. He had a shocker. His own three dropped catches were critical. More generally, I thought his captaincy on that final day was unnecessarily defensive for too long. It’s tempting to think all of this reflected his state of mind, which looked well out of sorts. His verbal jousting on Days 3 and 5 has been much discussed. The content was largely unexceptional, but the ill temper revealed certainly wasn’t. It was completely out of character.


With its captain dropping his guard, it was instructive to see how Australia’s behavior in general lapsed. Their frustration was far too visible. It would have encouraged India. Lapses such as these certainly encourage the notion that, despite recent history, elite cricket in Australia still harbours the belief that it can’t play its best without behaving like arseholes. I have always thought this was misguided. If I was an opponent, I would suspect this alpha macho bulldust was more bully’s bluster than any genuine toughness. India certainly appeared unfazed on Day 5. And no amount of bluster compensated for dropped catches.


Australia’s lapses have seen an interesting change in the momentum of public debate. The usual local media tactic is to assist in piling pressure on a touring opponent. If anything, the criticism of recent days has been disproportionate to the degree of actual Australian offense. And it feels like India have sensed opportunity. Am I the only one to suspect an element of trolling in the ongoing (unofficial) complaints about hotels, etc? Is this some sort of oblique payback for those long decades of Australian complaints about accommodation conditions in India?


These speculations aside, one cause for genuine offence came from the boorish contributions of certain Sydney spectators. It is still to be determined how specifically racist those comments were, but suffice to say they were sufficient in any manner to offend the Indian players. There is no surprise here. We know from abundant precedent that some of our fellow citizens are quite specifically racist in their general attitudes. The question, as always, for those of us who claim to be different remains. What do we intend to do about it?


If all of this has left Australia on the defensive in terms of public discourse, there are legitimate cricket reasons for the hosts to look to Brisbane with optimism. As our record at the ground attests, pitch conditions could be expected to favour our pace attack. Steve Smith is back in form. Having owned his Sydney mistakes, Tim Paine would seem unlikely to repeat them. Under his leadership, the team has shown a previous capacity to recover from disappointment. Crucially, injury and absence has their opponent digging deep into its playing depth.


Yet India can easily find reasons for their own optimism. Their resolve is now beyond question. Though they have had to field three debutants in the last two tests, all have made significant contributions. Rohit Sharma bolstered their opening batting strength in Sydney.


They will also sense potential weakness in Australia’s openers, with the injury loss of Pucovski. In Sydney, David Warner looked as he is, a man short of match play. He will be joined by Marcus Harris, who can’t have failed to notice the lack of selectorial affection directed his way this summer. Sydney runs from Smith and Marnus Labuschagne also, perversely, confirmed Australia’s ongoing unhealthy dependence on them. India’s ability to take advantage of these vulnerabilities may depend on the fitness of Bumrah, who has been disclosed to be carrying an injury.


India will hope that the mere three day turnaround from Sydney may be a factor. Australia toiled for 131 overs to conclude that test. Will their bowlers be blunted by the effort?


As befits a series that has fascinated in its many twists and turns, Brisbane awaits as a match of abundant potential. In a summer where cricket’s own broadcaster has accused the game of failing to deliver, that accusation can’t be credibly aimed at test cricket.



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About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Daryl Schramm says

    That is an absolute ripper of a summary of where things are at John. Balanced, knowledgeable, succinct and I enjoyed every word, and their order, of it. Would like to republish on my FB page of OK as it sums up how I feel, and is a great advertisement for this website as well.

  2. John Butler says

    Thank you Daryl. Feel free to share as you wish.


  3. John Butler says

    Bumrah, Ashwin and Jadeja all out. Ouch!

    Very few excuses for Australia here. A very inexperienced bowling line up for India.

    An opportunity for Marcus Harris? Cricket fates can be strange.

  4. John Butler says

    Opportunity not accepted by Harris. He really wastes too many chances at test level with soft dismissals.

    And Warner’s footwork is very rusty.


    Just for a change, everything rests with Labuschagne and Smith.

  5. Daryl Schramm says

    Watching in slight delay again using the Tbox. Love watching good swing bowling. Apologies for the broken record but I want Green at 5 and Wade at 6. Better balance IMO. Also want Bancroft back in. Thought he was stiff to be dropped in England. Also want him at short leg. I know it won’t happen but . . . .2/57 on my TV.

  6. John Butler says

    India look as though they plan to test Australia’s patience. Sundar looking to tie up an end.

    May not be enough against Smith.

    Daryl, I’m not much of a Bancroft fan. Sandpaper considerations aside, he has some technique problems.

    Wade doesn’t inspire much confidence either. But I’d leave Green at 6 in the short term. Let him find his feet. He’s the longer term investment.

    That’s the joy of cricket – we can all have our own take on things. The game will usually prove us wrong. :)

  7. John Butler says

    Just to confirm my previous comment, who saw Smith holing out tamely to Sundar? Then Rahane missing a chance the very next over?


  8. Daryl Schramm says

    And another chance given since. How many innings has Marnus had this series? If India had a decent keeper he would be standing up to Natarajan with Marnus so far down the wicket. #5 is usually the spot for the least experienced midddle order bat and #6 often needs to negotiate the second new ball. Hence my revised order. 3/136 nearly live on my TV.

  9. John Butler says

    Pretty even Stevens at day’s end.

    Important partnership between Paine and Green at the end. With Australia’s bowling, anything around 350 is very competitive.

    It will be interesting to see how the dry looking pitch plays later in the game. Paine’s ability to win a toss is not the least of his captaincy attributes.

  10. Daryl Schramm says

    Why was I so confident Wade would not get to 50? He had me worried for a while then didn’t let me down. Thought the inexperienced Indian bowling personnel performed very well. Smith’s time taken to get off the ground once he realised he was dismissed was over the top. Current partnership determines our first innings score. I think Paine might be on a mission.

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