Before the final day began at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday in the pink-ball warm-up match between India and Australia A, Allan Border was not a happy man. Rishabh Pant and Hanuma Vihari had smashed 165 runs in 29 overs in the final session on day two. While there was tremendous ball-striking and the Aussies were significantly weakened by injuries, the hosts’ approach did not please the legendary former captain.
“One of the worst, (most) lethargic performances I have seen in the last session of any cricket,” Border said during the pre-match show on Fox Cricket before action began on day three.
“This is Australia A, they are representing Australia, they are young blokes trying to make their way. That fielding performance, bowling performance, captaincy performance – an absolute disgrace. Not up to scratch at all. I’m happy for any of those guys to come talk to me about what was going on yesterday afternoon and stand corrected but very ordinary stuff.”
In the end, when day three came to a close, one can say the Australians showed enough fight to earn a hard-fought draw when a defeated seemed more probable.
Twenty wickets fell on the first day, followed by a total of eight wickets from days two and three as the pink-ball warm-up match came to a close ahead of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy that starts in Adelaide on December 17.
At one point, Australia A were struggling at 25/3, losing their three main batsmen: Joe Burns, Marcus Harris and Nic Maddinson. But captain Alex Carey scored a half century while Ben McDermott and Jack Wildermuth scored centuries to take Australia A to 307/4 when play was called off in the final session.
Australia, already without David Warner, face major selection problems heading into the first Test against India after incumbent opener Joe Burns struggled again in the final warm-up game while Marcus Harris, a late addition to the squad, fared little better.
Despite spending some time in the middle, Burns managed just one run at SCG before being trapped lbw by India’s dangerous Mohammed Shami, leaving him with only 62 runs from nine first class knocks this summer.
He has scored only 4, 0, 0 and 1 in his four innings for Australia A against India A, and selectors have plenty to ponder ahead of the day-night Test which begins in Adelaide on Thursday.
“It’s a sad sight seeing a bloke really struggling to just find any sort of form,” Border said on Fox Sports, adding that Burns, who has scored four centuries in his 21 Tests, should not be picked.
World-class opener Warner will miss the Test with a groin tear and his likely replacement, rookie Will Pucovski, was ruled out by concussion after being struck on the helmet by a bouncer in a warm-up match last week.
Harris, who hasn’t played a Test since being dropped after the Ashes in England last year, was drafted in as Pucovski’s replacement.
But he scored only five on Sunday, also falling to Shami, to go with his first innings 26, although he has been in excellent touch in the Sheffield Shield this season.
If Burns is axed, Marnus Labuschagne could be elevated to opener from his usual number three, or Matthew Wade bumped up the order.
That could potentially open the door for red-hot young all-rounder Cameron Green, although questions remain over his fitness after he too suffered a concussion last week when hit in the head by a powerful straight drive while bowling.
Positives for India
The Indians had made 194 in their first innings of the pink-ball warm-up match in Sydney, before Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Navdeep Saini skittled Australia A for 108 on a crazy first day. It was Bumrah who had top-scored in the first innings for the visitors in what was otherwise a disappointing batting performance.
The Indians fared much better in their second innings, gaining valuable day-night batting practice before declaring on 386/4.
Shubman Gill hit 65 to state his case to open in Adelaide with Mayank Agarwal, who compiled 61, before Hanuma Vihari (104 not out) and Rishabh Pant (103 not out) tore into the second-string Australian attack.
On the final day, the positives for India was the rhythm of their new-ball duo. Bumrah and Shami both looked dangerous in their first spells, while it was Shami who had the wickets to show for it.
But, apart from a brief spell in the final session when the two returned to bowl under lights, the bowling performance was largely nonthreatening from Ajinkya Rahane’s troops. The only wicket to fall in the last two sessions was due to a rash shot played by Carey off Hanuma Vihari’s part-time off-spin bowling.
It was also worth noting that while Rishabh Pant kept wickets in the first session, the gloves went to Wriddhiman Saha for the last two sessions, keeping the door open for who finally gets the wicketkeeper slot in Adelaide.
Finally, after centuries were reached by the Aussie middle-order batsmen, the handshakes began with one ball left in Prithvi Shaw’s over, but eventually that was all at SCG. It was a good fightback by Aus-A after losing early wickets and with everyone seemingly happy, it was time to pack up.
Good news for Australia was that Border finished the broadcast saying he liked what he saw on the final day. Perhaps that was a small win in itself for the hosts, while the Indians had enough positives to take from the three days too.
(With AFP inputs)