India Tour of Australia - Men's
Openers head to Adelaide to await selectors' call
Openers Joe Burns and Marcus Harris failed to make a serious contribution in the tour match, leaving Australia's selectors with tough decisions ahead of Thursday's Test series opener
Andrew Ramsey at the SCG
13 December 2020, 09:13 PM AEST
India warmed up for their Border-Gavaskar Trophy defence by dominating a draw, but it was the dent they put in Australia's Test preparation that might prove the most significant result of their three-day tour match.
By continuing Test opener Joe Burns' wretched run of low scores, the touring side could sit back and watch the smouldering debate surrounding the make-up of their rivals' Test line-up flare into a full firestorm just days before the first match of the Vodafone Series at Adelaide Oval.
Burns' dismissal for 1 (off 21 balls after 39 minutes of struggle) saw a raft of former players put forward suggestions on who might open alongside Marcus Harris in the first Test, with nominations ranging from the sublime (veteran Shaun Marsh) to the ridiculous (skipper Tim Paine).
It remains unclear whether Australia will stick with Burns despite his obvious form woes, look within the existing squad for a replacement (given specialist openers David Warner and Will Pucovski are unavailable through injury and concussion, respectively), or draft an additional member into the group.
That final contingency might be required in light of Warner and Pucovski's absence as well as ongoing doubt about the fitness of allrounder Cameron Green, to cover the need to have like-for-like replacements on standby as potential concussion or COVID19 substitutes.
If that's the case, Ben McDermott pushed his case for the role of top-order batting sub with a classy century that arrived just minutes before allrounder Jack Wildermuth also reached triple-figures.
McDermott's ton was just the second of his first-class career (and his first in almost four years), while Wildermuth's third first-class hundred came in addition to his four wickets in India's two innings having been drafted into the team on match eve when Moises Henriques was ruled out.
The flux surrounding their opponents' likely line-up is scarcely a concern for India, but it's easy to imagine a contrastingly satisfied air within their camp as they packed up and prepared to head to Adelaide.
After another lengthy nets session at the SCG this afternoon, Kohli entertained other members of the touring party not involved in the game with a series of animated anecdotes as they gathered in the boundary-side bunker.
Cheteshwar Pujara, the mainstay of India's batting when they completed their history making Test series win in Australia two summers ago, spent much of the afternoon ambling laps of the playing field with injured spinner Ravindra Jadeja.
And having accounted for Australia A's openers inside the first half-hour, new-ball pair Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah fired up at the start of the final session to hone their short-pitched bowling tactics against McDermott and Wildermuth.
The Australia A pair not only absorbed the punishment but launched a successful counterattack before the game was declared a stalemate with Australia A 4-307 in their second innings and 15 overs remaining in the evening session.
However, their team's final-day pursuit of a distant 472 was always going to be an academic exercise and was granted even greater abstraction when the trio of Test-capped batters underpinning the top-order fell within the first hour.
It's not only Burns' scarce return of 62 runs from nine completed first-class innings this summer that tells its own compelling tale, it's the increasingly apparent struggle with competence and confidence he's waging each time he bats that speaks just as volubly.
Burns went to the wicket at play's resumption today with a revamped technique and a revised strategy.
There had been a sameness to his eight first-class dismissals (average 7.6) leading into today, with five of them yielding fine edges to the keeper and a sixth coming when former Test teammate Peter Siddle went through Burns's defence to hit leg stump.
In a bid to overcome that flaw in his game, Burns began his defining innings today by scratching guard in line with off-stump, and making an initial movement further towards the off side to effectively take him outside the line of his wicket by the time the ball arrived.
It's unusual for a player to make such a dramatic change to their batting blueprint mid-season, let alone between innings less than a week before the first Test of the summer.
There was some initial discomfort with the new fit, as Burns found himself in such unfamiliar territory that he contemplated laying bat on the second ball he faced from Bumrah before realising it was pitched so wide it could be safely left alone.
But the right-hander soon settled into his new stance, hawkishly watching a series of deliveries from Bumrah pass beneath his nose as his bat – which he had failed to fully withdraw in the previous tour match at Drummoyne, an oversight that ended his innings – remained securely out of harm's way.
For 15 deliveries, Burns managed the threat posed by Bumrah who maintained an off-stump attack, the only run coming when the opener dropped and ran to short cover and it wasn't until the seventh over of the innings he found himself facing Shami.
He was at the non-striker's end when India's most experienced seamer executed a flawless plan to remove Harris, whose four Australia A innings over the past 10 days have brought scores of 35, 25no, 26 and 5.
Aware the left-hander likes to nudge and deflect early in his innings, Shami installed a catcher at leg slip from the first delivery he bowled and it only took until the first delivery of his third over for Harris to oblige by glancing directly to the fielder.
The plan for Burns was similarly simple, and even more efficacious.
It took just six balls to enact, the first five of which pitched on or outside off-stump.
Burns shouldered arms to three of them, knocked a couple of them back down the pitch and had even begun taking a step down the wicket as Shami released the ball to further throw the bowler off his line.
But when the veteran of 49 Tests speared the sixth delivery in at Burns' stumps, the Queenslander found himself in a tangle and knew the instant the ball crashed into his front pad that he was done for, not even needing to look up at umpire Bruce Oxenford.
"He was trying to hit that square, and that's a ball that should be hit down the ground," Australia's most-capped Test skipper Allan Border noted of Burns' dismissal while commentating on the live-stream coverage.
"That's where Joe Burns is at with his technique at the moment, he's just shot.
"It's a sad sight to see a bloke struggling to find any sort of form."
Burns had barely returned to the SCG dressing room than television cameras captured selection panel chair on his telephone while seated in the members' stand as the already fevered discussion of Burns' Test prospects rose several degrees.
Border added his "gut feel" was the selectors might look elsewhere for Harris's opening partner in the first Test, although there were few stand-out batting efforts for Australia A across the two tour matches to help further inform the panel.
Nic Maddinson, leading runs scorer in last year's Marsh Sheffield Shield competition, fell soon after Burns when he slapped Mohammed Siraj's opening delivery into the hands of the India fielder at point who had been deliberately set deep for that very stroke.
The most productive pink-ball partnership for Australia A was forged between captain Alex Carey (58) and McDermott, who added 117 for the fourth wicket before Carey succumbed to part-time spinner Hanuman Vihari.
Vodafone Test Series v India 2020-21
Australia Test squad: Tim Paine (c), Sean Abbott, Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Will Pucovski, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade, David Warner
India Test squad: Virat Kohli (c) (first Test only), Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Rishabh Pant (wk), Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Siraj
Second Test: December 26-30, MCG, 10.30am AEDT
Third Test: January 7-11, SCG, 10.30am AEDT
Fourth Test: January 15-19, Gabba, 11am AEDT