Australia v India – Second Test Day 3: India close on a remarkable revival

“The Cricketer”
by Kate Birrell


Australia began Day 3 in Melbourne badly needing wickets, but started with defensive fields and no clear strategy. They were just hoping for their opponents to err. After 17 runs had been added to the overnight score, with Indian hopes of batting Australia right out of the game gathering credence, the hosts found an unlikely ally in Ravi Jadeja.


On 49, Jadeja suddenly became anxious for a quick single to reach his half century. After a couple of false starts, he pushed to cover and ran. His captain, Ajinkya Rahane responded, only to be caught barely short by quick work from Marnus Labuschagne. Rahane’s dismissal for 112 was adjudged on the margin of a single television frame, much the same as Tim Paine had been spared on Day 1. It was an anti-climax to a great innings, and a crazy piece of cricket from Jadeja, who is experienced enough to know better.


Jadeja then compounded his folly by obliging Mitch Starc’s plan to bounce him with two men out. His dismissal for 57 left India 7-306, with their tail exposed. Ashwin and Yadav resisted for a while, before the final 3 wickets were swept aside for the cost of a single. India’s lead was curtailed to 131. It was significant, but with definite signs the wicket was improving it felt like a door had been left at least partly ajar for Australia to make a game of it.


Australia’s makeshift opening pair could do little to encourage that hope. Having flattered to deceive in a short run chase in Adelaide, Joe Burns returned to the abject form that has unfortunately marred his summer. Stumbling around the crease like a drunk, Burns’ 10 ball innings was an agony awaiting the inevitable. Finally, he managed to nick Yadav behind. It is one thing for selectors to show faith in a player, it is entirely another thing to ignore the abundant evidence of your own eyes.


Matthew Wade had at least managed to survive, though he was making little more impact on the scoreboard. He was joined by Labuschagne, who proceeded to get the score moving in the same thoroughly unconvincing manner that has been his way this series. Having claimed that wicket, Yadav soon limped off with a suspected torn calf. India’s decision to include an extra all-rounder appeared well conceived.


The score had crept to 42, and Labuschagne to 28, when Ashwin produced a superb delivery – effectively an out swinger to the right hander, that saw Labuschagne neatly pocketed at slip by Rahane. Steve Smith once again strode to the crease with his team’s fate largely weighing on his shoulders.


Smith has appeared a pale shadow of his usual self in this series. In fact, since his phenomenal heroics in the 2019 Ashes series, Smith’s test batting form has declined sufficiently to be the subject of steadily growing murmurs beneath the deafening chorus of obligatory hosannas to his genius. His white ball form has been fine, but you only really get to judge how the greats are travelling in test cricket.


More obviously than any other contemporary titan, Smith’s greatest feats have flowed when he has willed himself into a particular state of mind, his ‘bubble’. But the Smith bubble isn’t any zone of tranquility, it’s more a headspace where his collective neuroses can be channeled free of distraction. The famous Smith between-ball routine is a syncopation of tugs, twitches and jerks that almost equate to its own dialect. His actual batting technique is a symphony of exaggeration that defies any conventional coaching manual. In these last two tests, the symphony has badly needed a tune up.


Smith had spent 30 deliveries accumulating 8 runs, convincing no one form had returned, when he jumped across the crease in what appeared his usual fashion, only to see the Bumrah delivery kiss the outside of leg stump and softly remove the bail. Smith watched the bail fall, but still took off for a run as if in disbelief. Australia was 3-71, still 60 runs in arrears.


Compared to the frailty at the other end, Wade had appeared a relative island of calm. He still too often plays the short ball poorly to convince as a viable opener, here receiving a fearful clang on the helmet from Bumrah,  but he made his way to 40 in sound enough fashion, before a quicker Jadeja delivery caught him plumb in front. That Wade chose to review the decision only confirmed that most batsmen exist in a permanent state of denial about the LBW rule. Which is precisely the problem with the current review arrangements.


Completely failing to respect the game situation, Travis Head then slashed wide at the first offering of a new Siraj spell and was caught in slips. As he often does, Head had failed to properly transfer his weight forward when attempting to drive. It was a shot as deficient in thinking as it was in execution. This can be said too often of Head.


Tim Paine has no time to really contemplate another innings resurrection before he tried to cut Jadeja. He appeared unsurprised when the Indian appeal was rejected, then somewhat bewildered when the RTS review revealed a spike from the edge. What the technology had given Paine in the first innings, it may well have taken back in the second. Australia were 6-99, having lost 3 for 1.


Despite the extravagant praise of certain commentators, Cameron Green has looked exactly like a young man getting a rough schooling in the difference between first class and test cricket in his first two outings under the baggy green. Here he hung on gamely, supported by Pat Cummins. They crept Australia into a meagre 2 run lead without ever threatening ascendancy over an Indian attack that maintained tight lines and astute fields. With Pant failing to glove a late Cummins edge, they survived to stumps six down. They will need a minor miracle to extend this game much beyond lunch tomorrow.


From their embarrassment on Day 3 in Adelaide, India have lost their best batsman and two frontline bowlers, yet are on the verge of a remarkable revival in this series. Much credit is due Ajinkya Rahane, who has led brilliantly with the bat and in the field in this match. The willingness of team leadership to correct the selection mistakes of Adelaide has also been important – all included for this game have contributed significantly.


Yet this turnaround would not have been possible without significant accommodation from the home team. With David Warner missing, and Steve Smith struggling, the rest of our batting has been exposed once more in its many deficiencies. If, as seems inevitable, the series draws level at 1-1, Australia will need to face the facts about some of its own selection delusions. Given the constraints of the bio-safety bubble, available alternatives may be constrained. But under Tim Paine, the Australians have also shown an ability to bounce back from adversity. They will need to do so once more. Adelaide now seems a distant memory.


Day 3 stumps

Australia 195 & 6-133, India 326



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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. Smith just wonder if he was disappointed re the possible return to Captaincy was handled as yes mentally he he is not in the right head space.Burns selection was ridiculous in the first place,Harris had to play.
    Travis Head still making,EXACTLY the same errors since he made his Shield debut I truly question his cricket nous and ability to process information.JB yep game will be over by lunch thanks,JB

  2. If your writing from yesterday was reminiscent of Peter Roebuck, so was today’s Australian batting. Uncertainty in search of adequacy. Tangled Up in White.
    The Australian quicks back on the nasty pills. Transferring their frustration at doing it all on their own again and again. Like the dutiful wife after hubby blows the pay packet down the pub.
    India’s bowling attack is undermanned but never outmatched. Admirable attention to detail with how they follow the blueprint for every batsman’s weaknesses. Siraj has a Hazlewood-like relentlessness to him.
    Your summation of Green is spot on. Immense talent but how do you mature someone for Test Cricket in the wasteland of flat drop-ins and endless short form matches that is now the “State Cricket” format.
    Like Coles “vine-ripened” tomatoes – pick Green and hope they mature by next week.
    If we can just get to a 37 run lead……………..

  3. John Butler says

    Rulebook, if Smith is disappointed about not being captain, he really does need his head read.

    Travis Head has managed some decent test innings, but when the going is tough he fills me with little confidence. I don’t think his technique is even that sound.

    PB, given that it was the same batsmen who didn’t score enough runs who also dropped most of the catches, the bowlers have a right to be cranky.

    The constant demotion of the Shield as a priority can only cause more and more problems for the test side, no matter how much coaches’ egos make them think a national squad environment will suffice.

    We’ve seen all of this for a decade now.

  4. Apart from one disastrous innings, India’s overall batting has been way superior to ours. Watching most of them, even Smith, show little confidence in taking on a bowler, makes me think of how I wish someone, perhaps THE BIG SHOW, could work wonders at number 6 or 7. He couldn’t do any worse and should he come off, would certainly brighten things up especially if Warner comes good in the remaining tests. Just a thought.

  5. Fisho, Warner has been missed in terms of providing impetus to an innings.

    I fear the Big Show’s cards appear marked, for reasons that elude me. He’s obviously a more talented player than either Head or Wade, but somebody who matters clearly doesn’t like him. Australian selection has rarely been just about ability. Are we desperate enough to change that? I doubt it.


  6. John Butler says

    So it’s 1-all.

    We await the decision on the venue for the 3rd test.

    That will perhaps have some consequence on team selections.

    Well played India. Out-batted and out-fielded us.

    Rahane a monty for MOM.

  7. Re Smith: those with unusual tecniques look great when they are in form, look shite when they are not.
    I reckon Wagner fried Smith’s brain last summer.

  8. John Butler says

    Smokie, I reckon Smith may have fried his own brain to an extent.

    He’s such an intense character, the decision to play IPL, and commit to staying in a bubble for so long, may be taking its toll.

    Then again, he may just be out of form. He’s human.

    But because he’s Steven Smith the speculation will be intense.

  9. Daryl Schramm says

    Love your work JB. Did a review of some of your recent articles earlier this morning. Most interesting and thought provoking. Re the test, your observations on Green are apt. He has showed enough to me to warrant perservering. Bat him at 5, the traditional spot for the least experienced middle order batsman. Wade at 6 where he had his success last year and two bona-fide openers. Who? Who knows.

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Your description of Burns stumbling around like a drunk at the crease is the most apt description of his 10 ball innings I’ve read. It was excruciating to watch. I actually still felt sorry for him as he trudged off after wasting a review.

  11. John Butler says

    Thanks Daryl.

    Green at least looks like he has a forward defense that might stop a basketball. Not so sure about a couple of his team mates.

    Warner a cert. Will they risk Pukovski?

    They’re stuck with who has already been in the bubble, so options are limited.

    Will there be a crowd or not to see it all?

  12. John Butler says

    Luke, everyone who has ever played at any level has had spells like that.

    In the old arrangements, you could drop back to the Shield and find form. Now? He’ll be throwing the bat in the BBL. Can’t see that helping much.

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