It will be mate versus mate when Australia takes on Australia A at Southampton in a four-day pre-Ashes trial match starting at 8pm (AEST) tonight.
Australia headed to Sydney, the prospect of regaining the Border-Gavaskar trophy gone – barring some thrilling, intricately planned heist.
But with the series still able to be levelled via an improbable SCG victory, the selectors took the only rational option of, uh, recalling Marnus Labuschagne to the squad.
Here are the ratings for the Fourth Test between Australia and India.
Before the Test began, the Australians spent time honing their various skill sets in an optional New Year’s Day training session.
As Mitchell Starc bowled at a single stump and Travis Head practiced his forward defence, captain Tim Paine stood over to one side, mumbling to himself as he worked tirelessly on his banter, trying to hone his tight five.
“Hello, SCG. How are you?” he muttered, reading from his notepad. “Anybody here from… Sydney?” (hold for applause) “We’ve just flown in from Melbourne and I’ve gotta say, boy, are Pat’s arms tired.” (hold for laugh)
The selectors, meanwhile, dropped Mitchell Marsh and recalled Peter Handscomb, whose technical deficiencies in the first two Tests had been completely sorted out by a swashbuckling 70 in the Big Bash.
A crucial blow to the Australian side’s overall Marsh quotient, one might think. But, in fact, not, as this exclusive analysis reveals.
Australian XI analysed by MARSHness:
MARcuS Harris 5/5
uSMAn kHawaja 4/5
MARnuS labuscHagne 5/5
shaun MARSH 5/5
tRAviS Head 4/5
peteR HAndScoMb 5/5
tiM pAine 2/5
pAtRick cuMminS 4/5
MitcH StARc 5/5
nAtHan lyon 2/5
joSH hAzlewood 3/5
India won the toss and chose to have Cheteshwar Pujara bat. And he didn’t disappoint, piling on his third century of the series with Australia seemingly powerless to dismiss him.
With India needing only the draw to win their first ever series in Australia, Virat Kohli must have been sorely tempted to just let Pujara make 800-odd, before shaking hands and calling it a draw late on day 5 with India 9/1754.
But even when Pujara inexplicably allowed himself to be dismissed for a mere 193, that wasn’t the end of Australia’s misery.
Rishabh Pant’s chatter and encouragement while keeping during this series had been his trademark until now. Any movie that delighted audiences as much as Pant is delighted by any random delivery from one of his spinners would smash every box office record imaginable.
But here Pant finally showed off his full prowess with the bat, smashing the bowlers all over the place as he raced to 159 not out.
I’d like to think he ‘waa-heeey’ed each of his boundaries with the same level of enthusiasm he shows behind the stumps.
Kohli eventually declared at 7/622. An amazing total, especially since nobody who had been watching the game could even begin to imagine how Australia had taken that many wickets.
Aaron Finch, of course, was in such terrible form that he was out two days earlier. But Marcus Harris and Usman Khawaja saw Australia safely to stumps on the second day, trailing by 1000 runs (rounded to the nearest thousand).
When Khawaja fell the next morning, Harris was joined by Labuschagne. (Actually, Labuschagne is the name of the scientist. The creature Australia had batting at three is technically ‘Labuschagne’s Monster’. But you know what I mean.)
Shortly after lunch on the third day, with Harris looking to make a Daddy Thirty and Labuschagne batting solidly, the deficit was reduced to 0 runs (rounded to the nearest thousand). A big over.
Despite the assistance of the mathematical power of rounding, Australia were still in peril. And when the Marvellous Marcus-Marnus partnership was broken, everything started to fall apart.
In the blink of an eye, fans were in the familiar position of watching Pat Cummins stride to the crease, six wickets down for a tally of runs that could reasonably be described as ‘not enough’.
Cummins made a handy 25, but the highlight of the innings from an Australian batting perspective was the last wicket partnership of 42 between Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood to take Australia to 300 all out.
When the final wicket fell, Starc and Hazlewood were keen to keep their pads on, have a ten minute sit-down in the middle of the pitch and open the second innings.
But Justin Langer vetoed the idea, boringly sending Harris and Khawaja back out to open.
A shameful lack of comic sensibility from the Australian leadership team. This is what happens when you only have one co-vice-captain in the team.
Australia needed somebody to step up in the second innings if they were to save the Test.
Or, if not step up, then pour down.
Or, if not pour down as such, then kind of vaguely drizzle down just enough that play would be endlessly and maddeningly delayed until the officials finally called the game off halfway through the fifth day.
It would be easy to criticise Australia’s effort in the Test, but on a more positive note, it was comfortably their best performance of the year.
(And yes, it was also their worst too. But I’m a batting order half full kind of guy.)