Vodafone Test Series v India
Late strike boosts Aussies after India grab vital lead
A fighting innings from skipper Tim Paine and a late wicket keep Australia in the game after India take a 53-run first-innings advantage in Adelaide
Andrew Ramsey at Adelaide Oval
18 December 2020, 11:30 PM AEST
Like his opposing captain a day earlier, Tim Paine showed how batting can be mastered in conditions that favour bowlers and against a dominant rival attack as Australia first seized, and then squandered advantage in the opening Vodafone Series Test against India.
Paine's unbeaten 73 in his team's first innings of 191 made him the only Australia batter to pass 50, and just the second to do so in a compelling if ball-dominated contest after India maestro Virat Kohli went one run better a day earlier.
Paine has worn his share of scrutiny for his Test batting output, having previously reached half-centuries in just six of 42 innings since returning to the Australia line-up in 2017.
However, by dint of tonight's effort against a masterful India attack led by spinner Ravi Ashwin (4-55) with seamers Umesh Yadav (3-40) and Jasprit Bumrah (2-52), Paine lifted his batting average to 33.40, above that of predecessor Brad Haddin (32.99) and second only to Adam Gilchrist (47.61) among Australia's specialist keepers.
The 36-year-old also once again showed his capacity to thrive in adversity, top-scoring for his team a third time with the previous instances coming when Australia was destroyed by the swinging ball for 88 at Headingley (against Pakistan in 2010) and by fall-out from the sandpaper scandal at Wanderers eight years later.
He would have completed a flawless day had he not spilled a diving chance from India opener Mayank Agarwal off Mitchell Starc as India faced a fiery six overs prior to stumps.
But that mini-session did yield the wicket of Agarwal's opening partner Prithvi Shaw who had his stumps re-arranged for the second time in as many days - this time by Pat Cummins - as India ended 1-9, an overall lead of 62 after they stymied then steamrolled the home team's reshuffled batting.
Australia not only deployed a new pair at the top of the batting order, they turned to a player who revealed pre-match he had never before opened in long-form cricket at any level.
Matthew Wade was into his unfamiliar role quickly, taking strike for the first over from Umesh while Joe Burns – who has forged a career in battle against the new-ball – watched on from the comparative comfort of the non-striker's end.
It soon became apparent how difficult their jobs would be, regardless of their apprentice or accomplished status.
It took 28 deliveries of dogged defence for Australia to find a run, when Wade was finally presented with some room to punch Umesh to the cover rope.
Next over Burns was on the board, ending an anxious 22-minute stint during which he studiously left anything outside the line of his stumps and furiously defended those threatening them.
Wade's maiden outing as an opener ended after an hour of vigilance that yielded eight runs, his attempt to overturn an lbw decision struck out by technology.
Burns survived 20 minutes longer, although he faced 10 balls fewer, before he fell to a similar fate.
The Queenslander has endured a run of poor fortune of late, and that continued when his lbw decision was shown to be marginally clipping leg side upon review but – because he was given out on-field – the verdict stood.
Having opened a door into Australia's middle-order, India then did their level-best to fall face-first across the threshold.
Dropped! Labuschagne gets a life on 12! #AUSvIND live: https://t.co/LGCJ7zSdrY pic.twitter.com/ooHxon8aCE— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) December 18, 2020
Labuschagne was gifted three lives before he reached 25, the reprieves ranging from half-chances (keeper Wriddhiman Saha's despairing dive before he had scored) to the comic (Bumrah's botched attempt to catch a skied hook and flick it back before he crossed the boundary rope when on 12) to the embarrassing.
The final let-off came with Labuschagne on 21, when another miscued pull shot elicited a defeated "oh no" from the world's fourth-ranked Test batter as it looped to mid-wicket where Shaw scuttled back with the flight and somehow fumbled the catch as it dropped into his hands.
Two balls after that let-off, an uncharacteristically subdued Steve Smith edged Bumrah low to the left of Kohli at second slip but his instinctive dive came up with little other than a handful of turf.
And a couple of overs later, Smith was himself forced to dive headlong for safety after taking off for a dubious single that Labuschagne knew wasn't there, the senior partner narrowly beating home Ashwin's slick work to remove the bails.
It had been a frenetic hour of activity form the time Wade was dismissed, ultimately crowned by Ashwin's removal of Smith with a delivery that fizzed straight on to the world's top batter who edged it into the lap of Ajinkya Rahane at slip.
Smith had spent 45 minutes at the crease during which he faced 29 balls for his single run, a return unthinkable in most regular circumstances, pandemic or otherwise.
But the pressure that had built amid the flurry of near-misses and India's escalating fears they might never secure the breakthrough led Ashwin into a rare victory dance which culminated in a celebratory skyward leap whereby his feet barely left the Adelaide turf.
Australia had chiseled just 45 runs from 27 overs when Smith departed, and worse followed when Travis Head tried to up the pace and spooned a simple return catch to Ashwin, heaping responsibility to the shoulders of 21-year-old Test debutant Cameron Green.
The allrounder has been praised by teammates since arriving in international company for his level head and unflappability, but with India surging and Labuschagne the last of the established batters he entered the fray under scrutiny that no preparation could have steeled him for.
Using his 198cm reach to smother Ashwin's spin, and his feet to get down the pitch when a full stretch was insufficient, Green looked comfortable in such esteemed company until he fell victim to his growing familiarity.
Seizing on a short ball that Ashwin sneakily pushed through at a greater rate, he misjudged the pace and extra bounce although he might have thought the pull shot that struck high on his bat might have carried sufficient power to elude the field, given India's woeful catching record to that point.
Unfortunately, he sent it in the direction of the player who has stood apart in this match, and Kohli showed he can catch as effortlessly as he can bat as he hung parallel to the ground in hauling in a two-handed grab.
Australia went to tea at a shaky 5-92 and knowing the most trying time to bat lay ahead, under the glare of full floodlight.
That situation worsened soon after the break when Labuschagne was pinned lbw by Umesh, the plaintive call for review suggested by Paine only confirming umpire Paul Reiffel's decision.
Umesh followed with Pat Cummins' wicket for a duck, courtesy of a well-directed bouncer and Mitchell Starc's breezy 15 from 16 balls ended in a run out as he tried to steal a precious extra run.
Those runs were found in the final hour, as Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood combined with their skipper to add 52 in almost an hour of counter-punching, confounding commentators who believed Australia should have foreclosed their innings to have a crack at India's top-order under lights.
That chance eventually came with 25 minutes remaining in a day that ended as it had begun – with the tourists batting.
After seeing India restricted to 6-233 on the opening day, Australia spearhead Starc remarked he and his fellow bowlers needed to show patience when the game resumed to prise out the tourists' final four wickets and then "let the batters go to work".
Neither of those events came to pass, as the game swung far more pronouncedly than the pink ball in either innings thus far.
Starc and Cummins needed neither patience nor a sweat as India's final four wickets succumbed for the addition of just 11 runs in the space of 25 deliveries with the near-new ball on a cloudless afternoon.
The procession began when Ashwin feathered the day's third ball, a delivery that would have challenged the technique of any specialist batter so soon to the middle.
Saha could not offer that excuse for his lapse in the next over, flashing hopefully at a full ball angled across him and India had only their card-carrying tail-enders remaining to try and push the total closer to 300.
Umesh signalled his intention to achieve that outcome with minimal blows, winding up to loft Cummins over mid-wicket before trying an even bigger heave off Starc and top-edging a fly ball that Wade did well to pouch.
When Shami bunted the first ball he faced tamely to short leg the innings was done after less than half an hour of batting, the second new-ball accounting for 6-51 in barely 13 overs either side of stumps.
But any belief the batting frailties were a symptom of non-specialists was exposed when Australia's top-order got their chance on a pitch that might have proved tricky, but revealed few demonstrable tricks.
Rather it was the skill of both teams' bowlers that provided crucial context in one of the rare modern fixtures where ball has consistently dominated bat, with the notable exception of the rival skippers.
Australia XI: Joe Burns, Matthew Wade, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c & wk), Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
India XI: Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah
Vodafone Test Series v India 2020-21
Australia Test squad: Tim Paine (c), Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, 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