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Opinion

Aussies leave door ajar but remain in driver's seat at SCG

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8th January, 2021
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Australia missed a golden chance to bat India out of the third Test on Day 2 at the SCG, but a pitch showing early signs of variable bounce means they remain on top.

Coasting along at 2-206 early in the day, the home side knew a total of 400-plus would all but deny the tourists any chance of victory in this vital clash.

But a series of needless dismissals meant India remain in the contest and could feasibly take an unassailable 2-1 lead into the fourth and final Test.

Marnus Labuschagne (91) chose to cut too close to his body on the stroke of his century, snaffled by Ajinkya Rahane at slip.

But while Labuschagne could be forgiven, Matthew Wade’s wild swipe against Ravindra Jadeja couldn’t, and soon the Aussies moved from a period of dominance to level pegging.

Matthew Wade

Matthew Wade. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Wade had arrived at the crease in a positive mood and was scoring freely along the ground. Yet when he tried to dance down the track and go aerial, he was caught at long-on just three overs before the second new ball.

On commentary for Channel Seven, Ricky Ponting said Wade “needed to have a lot more game awareness”.

“Matthew Wade has been opening in the last couple of Test matches, so the new ball is not going to faze him,” Ponting explained.

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“But what he’s done by getting out is expose Cameron Green to the new ball, a guy in his third Test, and for mine that is just not thinking enough about the situation of the game.

“We talk about game awareness and understanding what’s happening in the game. There was a phase there that Matthew Wade had to make sure he was there when the new ball came out.”

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Green departed for a 21-ball duck, and shortly after Tim Paine was similarly dismissed from the ever-impressive Jasprit Bumrah.

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From there it was all Steve Smith (131 off 226), who single-handedly dragged Australia to a respectable 338.

Smith’s innings was reminiscent of his 2019 Ashes form – a sparkling, authoritative knock.

Having spoken openly about a need to dial up his intent early, Smith came out firing late on Day 1. An on-drive off Navdeep Saini early — holding a pose that would please his sponsors no end — immediately signalled a different player to the one who had struggled in Melbourne and Adelaide.

Prior to the innings it was the longest period Smith had gone without reaching three figures in a Test match (since his first in 2013), and he might’ve been forgiven for grounding out a score to get back on the board.

But this was anything but.

After admitting Ravichandran Ashwin had got on top of him early in the series, Smith played him positively and found gaps through the on-side that few others could. Notably he also went over the top early and forced Rahane to employ a long-on.

He pounced on anything short from Ravindra Jadeja and drove Jasprit Bumrah with a level of comfort shown by no other Aussie player.

Steve Smith.

(Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Incredibly the century was the first time an Australian player had reached three figures in the last seven Tests at home against India.

It was also Smith’s eighth against India, now the equal-most by any player ever.

While Tim Paine might feel his side left 100 runs out there after winning a vital toss, he would be buoyed by the early deterioration of the SCG wicket, which puts his side in the driver’s seat.

Knowing they will need to bat in the fourth innings, the tourists will likely require 400-plus to keep them in the hunt in Sydney.

But that could prove difficult given the variable bounce already on offer in the latter stages of Day 2, something Smith commented on post-play.

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“It’s a little bit slow,” he told Fox Cricket. “We’ve seen a few balls take off a bit and a couple shoot low, so I think the stumps are our biggest friend tomorrow. If we can hit them consistently from a good length, then we’re right in play.”

Australia were sloppy in the opening exchanges against Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma (who put on 70 for the first wicket) but came back with a vengeance, Pat Cummins (1-19 off 12) the pick of the bowlers.

After Gill’s wicket India could manage just 11 runs off the last 13 overs as they limped to stumps.

Cummins, perhaps the best fast bowler in the world on slower decks, and Nathan Lyon, who is already extracting spin and bounce from the surface, have already emerged as the home side’s key to taking a 2-1 series lead.