Australia made the most of good batting conditions on a rain-shortened day as the third Test against India kicked off at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday.
Debutant Will Pucovski and Marnus Labuschagne scored half-centuries as Australia recovered after losing David Warner early in the innings. At close of play, Australia had recovered to 166/2 with Labuschagne not out on 67 and Steve Smith unbeaten on 31.
India’s bowlers toiled hard on a wicket that is good for batting and the team might have been in a better position if they had taken all their chances.
Here are the big talking points from Day 1 at the SCG:
Catches win matches...
Almost feels like a series that has been defined by the chances that have been dropped compared to the ones that have been taken. India were poor in the first Test, Australia returned the favour in the second and Pant continued the trend by dropping Will Pucovski on Thursday.
Australia opener Pucovski was dropped twice by Pant – first off Ashwin (on 26) and then off off Siraj (on 32). He went on to make his fifty but Pant also single-handedly kickstared the whole wicketkeeeper-batsman vs batsman-wicketkeeper debate again.
It is common knowledge that Wridhiman Saha is a vastly better keeper than Pant against spin. But the Indian team usually opts for Pant away from home taking into account the risk he represents. Still, in good batting conditions where the bowlers have worked so hard to create the opportunity, such dropped chances hurt.
Pucovski went on to get a fifty but it meant that Steve Smith was cooling his heels in the dressing room for that little bit longer.
One can argue that there isn’t a lot to choose between Ishan Kishan, Sanju Samson and Pant as batsmen. And Pant’s struggles behind the stumps represent an opportunity for Kishan and Samson if they can work on making their keeping better than Pant’s. It might just be the differentiator that will help them break into the Indian team.
In a series where runs have come at such a premium, dropped chances are pure gold for the opposition. Pant is trying his best but at the moment, it is not good enough.
Australia ended the day at 166/2 after 55 overs but there was clear intent shown in the middle. Pucovski started the day looking a little wary of the short ball but he pounced on anything that was pitched up. Marnus Labuschagne started slowly but he too looked increasingly comfortable as the innings went on. But perhaps, the batsman who made it very clear was Steve Smith.
The right-hander ended the day on 31 off 64 but at one point he had 26 off 32 balls with five fours, including a couple against R Ashwin. But this wasn’t just Australia going with the flow – rather they came out wanting to make sure that Ashwin and the other Indian bowlers weren’t allowed to settle into a good rhythm.
“I’m good, nice to spend a bit of time out there, nice to stitch in a partnership with Marnus. I wanted to put him (Ashwin) under a little bit of pressure which I haven’t done this series,” said Steve Smith on the spidercam at close of play.
The pitch seems to be good for batting. There wasn’t too much movement for the pacers and not much spin for Ashwin either. It was slowish too which allowed the batsmen to rock back on the backfoot and cut the ball with a fair degree of ease. The Aussie batsmen didn’t play and miss a lot and that itself was a major departure from what we saw in the first two Tests.
Australia will need at least 450 to put India under pressure on this kind of a wicket and if Smith and Labuschagne continue in the same vein on day two, that shouldn’t be beyond them.
Pucovski, Saini debuts
Pant gave Pucovski a helping hand but the 22-year-old Aussie opener showed why he has been talked about as being the future of Australian cricket. On either side of that brief period where he was dropped, the right-hander showed he was at ease against pace and spin. He does have the exaggerated movement towards the off-stump, much like Smith and Labuschagne, but he has also scored big runs in domestic cricket using that technique.
Still, it is just the beginning and the top teams in international cricket will look to break him down with the short ball and the full ball that will trap him leg before the wicket, which is exactly what India’s debutante Navdeep Saini managed to do.
Saini came into the playing XI for the injured Umesh Yadav but it was a while before he got the ball in his hand. He was a little short to begin his spell and his first two balls in Test cricket were hit for fours by Pucovski but he started making a correction towards the end of his spell.
He got Pucovski with a ball that tailed into the batsman. For most of his spell, he had been bowling around the mid-130s but this particular delivery saw him kick it up into the 140s and that got India a vital breakthrough.