Stand-in India captain Ajinkya Rahane showed how seriously he took the responsibility handed to him after he was given the captaincy baton by Virat Kohli, who is currently on paternity leave. Grabbing the opportunity with both hands, Rahane led by example and propelled India to a series-leveling win in the second Test at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The series is locked at 1-1. Now, the next assignment is the Sydney Test, which begins on January 7. Going into the crucial encounter, Rahane will know that he and his team will once again have to be at their very best to stay on top of the Aussies in their own backyard to try and change the scoreline to 2-1.
The one thing that Team India will have to be wary of is a counterattack by the Aussie batsmen. Through the series so far, the one thing that hasn’t clicked for the hosts is their batting. Their star batsman Steve Smith is going through a rather ill time poor run of form and David Warner was forced to sit on the sidelines of the first two Tests with an injury.
But Warner in all probability will play in Sydney. And Smith will be itching to come good with the willow. The third batsman India need to be wary of is Marnus Labuschagne, who is the second highest run-getter so far in the Test series, behind Ajinkya Rahane.
As we count down to the third and very crucial Test in Sydney, here is a look at how Australia’s top three batsmen (Smith, Warner and Labuschagne) have done historically against India in Tests and at the SCG:
Labuschagne has failed to take his score past 48 in the two Tests played so far but he is Australia’s highest run-getter in the series. The 26-year-old batsman was Test cricket’s first-ever concussion substitute when he came out to bat during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s in place of Smith. Smith suffered a blow to his neck thanks to a Jofra Archer bouncer. Labuschagne had already played five Tests before hitting the field as a concussion substitute, but his 59-run knock, the highest by an Australian in the second innings vs England in the Lord’s Test (resulted in a draw), and calmness helped him cement his place in the side.
Labuschagne, a South Africa born cricketer, has played 16 Tests so far and scored 1588 runs at an average of 58.81. In his 16-Test career, he has played three Tests against India (including the recently-concluded Adelaide and MCG Tests), scoring 167 runs at an average of 33.40.
In the opening Test in Adelaide, Labuschagne stood resolute after openers Matthew Wade and Joe Burns departed cheaply. The right-hander played a patient knock of 47 runs off 119 balls to take Australia out of a precarious situation.
In the second Test, Labuschagne again rose to the occasion and scored a gritty 48 off 132 balls, the highest by an Australian in the first innings. He scored 28 in the second innings before losing his wicket to R Ashwin.
Going into the third Test at the SCG, the 26-year-old will be expected to bring more to the table. The star batsman scored a brilliant 215 at the same venue against New Zealand in January last year and helped Australia win the match by a huge margin of 279 runs. For his heroics with the bat, he was adjudged Man of the Match. The Australian will aim to continue his love affair with the iconic stadium.
Labuschagne has fallen to Ashwin twice in the two Tests and the Indian spinner will have a chance to add him to his ‘bunny’ list in the third Test.
1,1* and 8,0 – that’s what Smith’s run of scores so far in the Test series looks like. Incredibly, the former Australian captain was in great form in the ODI series. He scored 216 runs in 3 matches at an average of 72.00, with back-to-back centuries. But he didn’t manage to take that form into the Test series.
Smith wasn’t a part of the Australian team in the last Border-Gavaskar series (2018-19) in which India registered a historic series win and took away the trophy. He was at that time serving a ban due to his involvement in the ball-tampering scandal during the Newlands Test against South Africa in 2018.
When Smith is on the song, no bowling attack in the world can stop him. Similar domination was expected from the Australian in the Test series against India because of his impressive record. He has played 12 Tests against India in his career so far and scored 1439 runs at an average of 71.95, including 7 centuries and 3 fifties.
Smith, who was recently named the ICC Test Player of the Decade, has been dismissed twice by Ashwin in the ongoing series and has been able to muster just 10 runs in 4 innings so far.
The Australia batting mainstay Smith is going through a lean patch but the ‘wounded tiger’ can roar back any time.
An India vs Australia battle looks incomplete without the ‘dynamic’ Warner. The swashbuckling left-hander missed the first two Tests with a groin injury which he picked up during the second ODI against India.
Ahead of the third Test though Australian Head coach Justion Langer has said that Warner is “very likely” to play.
After his thunder-bolt knocks of 69 (first ODI) and then 83 (second ODI), the swashbuckling opener will be expected to fire on all cylinders at the SCG, especially at a time when the Aussies are desperate to snatch back momentum from Team India.
Australia’s top order has failed to deliver in the first two Tests. Australia opened with Matthew Wade and Joe Burns in the Adelaide Test and the duo managed to score 8 runs each before walking back to the pavilion.
In the second Test at the MCG, Burns fell for a duck and Wade managed just 30 runs. Burns scored a paltry 4 before being dismissed by pacer Umesh Yadav in the second innings, while Wade scored 40.
Warner’s comeback in that context will see the home team heave a big sigh of relief.
Warner has played 8 matches at the SCG so far and scored 732 runs at an average of 66.54, including four centuries and three fifties.
In fact, he played his last match at the same venue against New Zealand in January last year and scored an unbeaten 111 in Australia’s win.
To make sure Warner doesn’t score big, Rahane and Co. will have to try and keep him in check right from the time the umpire says – ‘play’.