Vodafone Test Series v India
Pucovski debuts, Head dropped as Australia bat first
22-year-old Will Pucovski receives Baggy Green cap No.460 and will open alongside David Warner, as Matthew Wade returns to the middle order with Travis Head axed
7 January 2021, 10:07 AM AEST
Will Pucovski was presented with his Baggy Green cap on the SCG outfield by assistant coach Andrew McDonald this morning, and he will open the batting with David Warner as both players come in the Australia XI for this third Vodafone Test against India.
Pucovski will not have to wait long to be in the thick of the action, with Australia batting first after Tim Paine won the toss.
Pucovski, Australia's 460th Test cricketer, and Warner form an all-new opening combination for the Australians after Joe Burns and Matthew Wade opened in the first two Tests.
Burns has since returned to the Brisbane Heat in the KFC BBL and Wade will now return to the middle order, with former vice-captain Travis Head jettisoned for the SCG having played the last seven Tests for Australia.
India have also made two changes, having announced their XI on Wednesday evening, with vice-captain Rohit Sharma returning to the side to open the batting, with Mayank Agarwal dropped, while express paceman Navdeep Saini comes into the team to replace the injured Umesh Yadav.
Australia XI: David Warner, Will Pucovski, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Cameron Green, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
India XI: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (c), Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini
Head had found himself under pressure with scores of 7, 38 and 17 in his three innings in this series, with the emergence of Test newcomer Cameron Green and Wade's team-first efforts as a makeshift opener in the absence of Warner (groin injury) and Pucovski (concussion) during the first two Tests.
Pucovski becomes the first Australian opener to debut at the SCG since Mark Taylor in January 1989, and is Warner's 12th opening partner since the left-hander played his first match for Australia nine years ago.
The 22-year-old's series of concussions over recent years has been widely documented, the most recent coming when he was struck on the protective helmet while batting against the Indians in a tour game at Sydney's Drummoyne Oval a month ago.
But his captain claimed that while there would be a collective nervousness in the Australia dressing room when the new cap walked to the middle for his maiden Test innings, that was symptomatic of the goodwill that accompanies any debutant rather than specific concern about Pucovski being hit.
"There will be anxiety, I'm sure, for everyone watching someone playing their first Test match, there always is," Paine said earlier today.
"Will's been hit in the head a few times but he plays the short ball really well.
"As long as he's comfortable then we're comfortable, and so far he's indicated he's good to go and that's not a concern to him."
Expectation that India's bowlers will subject Pucovski and others in the Australia batting line-up to a healthy serve of short-pitched bowling have been exacerbated by the tactics employed from Australia's battery of quicks.
During the second Test in Melbourne, spearhead Mitchell Starc softened up India allrounder Ravindra Jadeja with a series of bouncers before claiming his wicket, and continued the ploy against rival tail-enders Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah.
When it was his turn with the ball in Australia's second innings, Bumrah targeted a number of Australia batters with short-pitched deliveries, one of which accounted for fellow fast bowler Pat Cummins on the game's final morning.
Paine expects that trend to continue, regardless of the competence or otherwise of the batter at the crease.
"Playing Test cricket is difficult, and playing the short ball at that pace is uncomfortable," he said.
"If you're someone who's perceived to have a weakness in that area, or even if you're not, it's part of the game.
"It's how teams test your mettle, or test what you're made of until you show otherwise.
"It's a tactic that certainly we've used so we expect to get plenty back as well.
"I think lower-order batsmen are getting better and better as well, so the fast bowlers' pact of not bowling bouncers to each other is well and truly dead by the looks of it.
"They love peppering each other these days."
The shake-up to Australia's batting line-up, unchanged for the first two Tests in which they failed to surpass 200 in their three completed innings, has been prompted partly by the team's inability to score with freedom against India's disciplined bowling plans.
The home team's scoring rate of 2.53 runs per over across the first two matches of the Vodafone Series has been the lowest on their home patch for almost 35 years.
As a result, Australia's batters have spent the week-long break between the second and third Test working on plans to better combat India's bowling blueprint.
Paine said today that largely involved a shift in mindset to encourage players to take on the opposition bowling, and to back themselves to employ innovative methods such as lofted strokes and reverse-sweeps in a bid to place pressure back on their rivals.
He added the inclusion of Warner, whose Test match strike rate of 73 runs per 100 balls faced has been bettered by only one Australia batter over the past century (Adam Gilchrist's 80), was also likely to help those plans to counter-attack.
"If he gets in and he gets away, that's what he does," Paine said of Warner.
"He puts pressure back on oppositions better than most, particularly opening batsmen and regardless of who we're playing against we're a better team by a fair margin when David Warner's in it.
"He also protects our middle-order a bit, I suppose.
"If we can have Marnus (Labuschagne) and Steve Smith coming in when the bowlers are a bit tired then it's a huge advantage for them as well.
"He likes to be aggressive, there's no doubt about that, but he'll play the ball as it comes.
"He's got great hand-eye (co-ordination) and great skill so he can often score quicker than others, but I don't think he goes out there with the intent of just taking it down."
Vodafone Test Series v India 2020-21
Australia Test squad: Tim Paine (c), Sean Abbott, 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: Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Rohit Sharma (vice-captain), Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Rishabh Pant (wk), Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Thangarasu Natarajan
First Test: Australia won by eight wickets
Second Test: India won by eight wickets
Third Test: January 7-11, SCG, 10.30am AEDT
Fourth Test: January 15-19, Gabba, 11am AEDT