India end the day on 90-odd for two, with Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane the unbeaten batsmen, after a 70+ opening stand to follow an Australian innings that finished in the low-300s.
If you’d shut yourself out from the world after day two of this third Test, you could be forgiven for thinking the game had paused for 48 hours.
Except that the events from day three mean that at the conclusion of day four, India are staring at a mountain, in the need of a miracle.
The visitors need to chase down 407 – which would be the third-highest successful chase in Test history – or, more realistically, bat out around 130 overs to leave themselves a chance of winning this series.
Only once in 82 fourth innings of Tests at Sydney have a side batted longer, and that was in 1964. And no visiting team has managed to score 300 runs in the fourth innings of a Test in Sydney since 1983.
In the ongoing series, the highest total managed by either team is Australia’s 338 from the first innings of this match; the longest a side has managed to last is 115.1 overs, the length of India’s first innings at Melbourne.
Long story short: After ending 2020 with a Melbourne miracle, India now need a Monday miracle at the SCG to begin 2021 on a satisfactory note.
A look back at the notable events from day three of the third Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2020/21.
Can’t catch a break, can’t catch a ball
It’s bad enough that the Test leg of this tour has seen India’s players dropping out of the action every other day – Ishant Sharma before the series, Virat Kohli and Mohammed Shami at the end of the first Test, Umesh Yadav at the end of the second, KL Rahul before the third, and Ravindra Jadeja (and possibly Rishabh Pant) during the third.
On the field too, sadly, dropping has been a recurring feature.
The second ball of the fourth morning saw Marnus Labuschagne offer a regulation catch to Hanuma Vihari at square leg. Halfway through the second session, Tim Paine edged one towards Rohit Sharma, standing at a widish first slip.
Labuschagne added 27 to his score at the time of being dropped, Paine 32. That’s an exact cost of 59 runs, but what about the opportunity cost?
Both the catches were shelled off the bowling of Jasprit Bumrah, the perfect bowler to unleash at a newly-arriving batsman to the crease.
The latest of India’s offerings took their tally of dropped catches in this series to 10 – six of which have come off Bumrah’s bowling.
India’s inexperience – and injuries – catch up at last
In home conditions, this Australian attack is a reasonable shout for being the best bowling attack in Tests presently. Yet, two-and-a-half matches into the series, India hadn’t really been outdone in the battle of the bowling departments. To manage that while having had to play their second/third/fourth/fifth-choice bowling combinations was an astounding achievement.
In the second innings at Sydney, it finally caught up with India.
Bumrah-Siraj-Saini was India’s least experienced pace attack in over 60 Tests since Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Varun Aaron and Pankaj Singh teamed up at Manchester in 2014.
India’s chosen pace attack will enter the #SydneyTest with a combined Test experience of 17 matches: Bumrah 16, Siraj 1, Saini 0.
The last time India fielded a pace attack with lesser Test experience was at Manchester in 2014 (Bhuvi 9, Aaron 1, Pankaj Singh 1).#AUSvIND
— Yash Jha (@jhayash) January 6, 2021
Bumrah, of course, is an outlier in world cricket. But for Siraj and Saini, one Test match appearance between them, the SCG surface was always going to be a tall order.
Let this not appear to be a criticism of two newcomers tasked with an unenviable challenge; Australia are, by far, the toughest place for debutants since 2000 – bowlers on Test debut average well above 60 in Australia. Siraj’s dream start at the MCG was truly exceptional.
To be fair, Siraj did keep up his work-rate here as well, and did an admirable job in terms of control in the first innings. Saini, however, didn’t help himself by venturing down the oft-incorrectly trodden path of trying to bowl too short – and leaked more than four runs per over in the match.
Even given the hospital ward’s worth of fast-bowling injuries/absentees, the biggest miss for India, arguably, was Jadeja – whose frugality wouldn’t have made Australia’s intent-ful second-innings batting as easy to execute as it was.
PS: Before being too harsh on Saini, let’s bear in mind that he was India’s seventh-choice pacer for this tour. How easy do you imagine a Michael Neser or a Jhye Richardson would find it the first time they play at a Chepauk or a Wankhede?
Green makes merry, rare middle-order joy for Australia
Coming into their second innings, no Australian middle-order (4-7) batsman apart from Smith averaged even 30 in the last two series against India. Excluding Smith, Australia’s middle-order batsmen had four half-centuries from 40 innings in these past six-and-a-half matches.
In all Tests since 2018, Smith is the only Australian to average above 40 batting in the middle-order (excluding Kurtis Patterson, who’s only batted twice).
Even given the relative ease of the situation – a pitch with no demons, a fourth/fifth-choice bowling attack rendered even more helpless with further injuries – any amount of runs from anyone not called Smith or Labuschagne comes as a shot in the arm for Australia.
Cameron Green’s entry into Test cricket has come on the back of a huge build-up – and a well-deserved one, on the back of a first-class average exceeding 55 before his debut.
The 21-year-old had already displayed commendable grit in his 146-ball long vigil in the second innings at Melbourne. At Sydney on Saturday, he showcased the levers the world has been accustomed to seeing in Australian Test batsmen coming in at number six or seven.
After beginning gingerly, he found his confidence with a crisp cover-drive off a rather full offering from Saini. Green still needed to be patient, as evidenced by 15 runs from his first 50 balls. And he brought up his maiden Test fifty off the 116th delivery he faced.
But the acceleration from there on was a sight to savour – in particular his six-hitting against the second new ball; after bringing up the half-century, Green smashed 33 runs from his last 16 balls, all bowled by Bumrah and Siraj, including four big sixes.
Australia will hope it’s the first of many.
Rohit-Gill– In extremely uncharted territory
The last time India registered a 50+ opening stand in the fourth innings of an away Test, the year was 2006.
The last – and only – time an Indian opening pair added 50+ runs in both innings of a Test in Australia, the year was 1968.
The last time an Indian opening pair lasted 15+ overs in both innings of a Test outside Asia in the 21st century… was never.
That Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill have achieved this rare ground in their first outing as India’s opening pair can allow the team to heave a huge sigh of relief. This, still, is only Gill’s second Test, and also Rohit’s first as an opener outside India. And on this tour, four previous Indian opening stands combined had tallied 23 runs in 8.5 overs.
There’s an argument that having done the hard work and played out the first 20 overs, there could/should have been a kick-on, and at least one of these two Rohit-Gill stands should have gone further.
But that would be a rather Indian take on cricketing issues, especially in the face of adverse results. You know, where you find a way of pinning the blame on a select few who do make a few runs, as opposed to the others who don’t make any runs.
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