Australia v India – Third Test Day 1: Luck, fortune or fair enough?



For such an abnormal version of the Sydney New Year’s Test, it’s opening day did it’s best to provide some normality. Members of Australia’s old firm returned to form. Australia won the toss and batted first without falling away miserably. Rain interrupted the middle section of the day. COVID numbers were thrown out the window as we were taken back to the same old SCG.


With a debutant arriving on each team sheet, excitement tinged the small crowd that ringed the green SCG pitch. Will Pucovski was given the first chance to impress. He waltzed out behind David Warner and strolled to the crease to face the first ball; an impressive and strong statement for the innings that was to come.


When Warner got on strike, he immediately sought to over-attack. Runs flowed quickly, until a groin grimace and a false drive landed in the hands of Pujara at first slip. As Warner walked off in bewilderment at failing to lodge another SCG ton, he may have wondered whether the pressure to rush in his scoring power may have impacted his shot-making more than he expected.


With their main attacking instrument shielding his Kaboom back inside, Australia had to persist with their renewed intent. Pucovski was the chief aggressor, looking incredibly comfortable early. The likes of Bumrah and Siraj had pinned down Australian bats throughout the entire MCG test, but they had no answer for Pucovski’s elegant straight bat shots. He also fought fire with fire in the form of his Kookaburra bat swathing pull shots against India’s expected bouncer barrage. His first boundary in test cricket came off a top-edged hook, but his ability to take the game on deserved such fortune.


Just as Labuschagne and Pucovski began to build, the rain came in and wiped away more time than anyone planned. By the time they took guard again it was nearly tea. If young Pucovski didn’t have enough to contend with, he now had to work his way in for a second time against a rather fresh ball.


Against the fast bowlers the pair soldiered on, taking on short balls and risking drives on the up. It worked. Slowly the run rate creeped up and the total increased steadily, Labuschagne and Pucovski the builders placing foundation blocks on a recently shaky Jenga tower. Ashwin had seen enough, and demanded an early trundle to swipe through the bourgeoning construction.


Ravichandran Ashwin must always struggle with the luggage limits on flights, as he once again applied his hefty clamps to the Australian innings. Just as the sun peaked out behind dull Sydney clouds, Ashwin grounded the batters to a halt. Labuschagne tempted fate by sitting back in his crease, replicating his mode of dismissal in Melbourne. Pucovski refused to saunter down the pitch and smother his variations, and tickled a fine edge through for his shyness.


But a man who has been through so much misfortune had some karma left in the bank. It was Rishabh Pant behind the stumps who granted him a chance, floating his gloves in the wrong position and hence spilling an elementary chance. A soft edge outside off – Pant was left fumbling for the crumbs that ultimately soured the SCG pitch. From that moment on, Pucovski worked to extract cuttable balls from India’s premier spinner.


But his lessons weren’t yet complete. The return of pace saw Pucovski go for another pull off Siraj. His intent was there, but his timing wasn’t. The gloved ball popped behind Pant, who catapulted through the air only to knock up the catch. He came up, surrounded by a swirl of dust, to diminutively accept his teammate’s relieved congratulations. Replays showed he was to bow his head once again, as his gloves appeared to have smothered the ball against the turf before snatching it into his left paw. Pucovski appeared to be gaining an exorbitant amount of luck, but a player who has been concussed by his bat bouncing up after a dive deserves some fortune.


The pair learnt to take more risks. Labuschagne danced around to Ashwin, cutting from middle stump and sashaying down to flick past close fielders. Pucovski cut brutally, stylishly swathing his way to a maiden half century. India’s debutant took forever to get a chance, and was greeted with two boundaries from his settled opposite number to raise his milestone.


All of a sudden, the run rate flew from below two to above three. A patch of 15 balls went for nearly double the runs; had the magenta of the Sydney Sixers snuck its way into it’s home pitch? Pucovski forged on, and looked oh so classy in doing so. His shuffle drives were stylish – anyone who can play the on drive with repetitive ease obviously has an air of superiority to them. But his cut shots and back foot drives were crisp, and signalled an exciting horizon for a career deserving plenty more tons.


But Pucovski’s debut innings wasn’t to become an emotional three-figure masterpiece. Instead, his luck ran short when debutant Saini swung one past his bat to trap him plumb in front. Ever the realist, the Victorian accepted his fate without question and instead willowed on his technical lapse during his walk off.


He may not have cashed in, but Pucovski’s flowing openers knock changed the mindset of his teammates. Smith fretted his way to the middle and smacked a few delicious drives. Labuschagne continued to pull and dance around. When Ashwin returned, both of them used their feet to loft the ball back over his head. It was the first time in the series they had done so, and a confirmation of Australia’s shift in mindset. No longer was Ashwin an unplayable force of magical variation and patience; he was an offspinner with skills who was still capable of feeling pressure.


For the final extended session Labuschagne and Smith combined for a dream rebellion, both smiling and reviewing each delivery with glee. They took turns in practicing presumptuous leaves and unorthodox swipes. The other would bunker down and work for more runs. It was two cricket fanatics revelling in the opportunity to finally put Australia in a powerful position on a lovely batting pitch. They did so until the end of the day, and booked their tickets for a day two expedition for long-awaited centuries.


Normality suddenly returned to the SCG in the form of two great Australian bats rediscovering their touch. All on the back of a debutant willing to ride his luck.



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  1. Daryl Schramm says

    Nice write-up Sean. The near run out where Marnus knocked him back after running 2/3 of the pitch was another fortunate event for Pucovski. His ‘karma’ also meant Pant substantially quietening down behind the stumps for a while. A relief for all.

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