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Australia's MCG meltdown the best PR for Smith and Warner

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'No real experienced heads in the batting line-up' - Cummins (4:29)

Cummins added that it was hard for Australia to have two of their best players in Steven Smith and David Warner missing from action (4:29)

Aaron Finch and Marcus Harris walk out to resume Australia's first innings on the second morning to the fanfare of music and between the flags of the host country and India. They have the clear goal to bat time and build a platform for the middle order to capitalise on. They start smoothly enough, collecting a trio of singles after Ishant Sharma's first-up no-ball. Cue the commercial break.

"I was in a pretty dark space."

Harris and Finch open their shoulders with a couple of boundaries through gully and cover, though Ishant's lines and lengths are growing more precise by the ball. Finch is beaten by a beauty on a fifth-stump line the ball after his cover drive. India's captain Virat Kohli senses a chance to corral Finch, who has fallen on slow pitches to straight fields before. When Ishant straightens his line, Finch cannot resist trying to flick past Mayank Agarwal, but thanks to the debutant's agility and safe hands at short midwicket, he cannot. One down. Commercial break.

"It made me realise what other people go through and what they need to get through those difficult times."

On the second evening Harris had been struck on the helmet for the second time in the series, receiving medical attention from the team doctor, Richard Saw, having also worn a hefty blow in Perth. Facing another skiddy bouncer from Jasprit Bumrah, this time Harris decides instinctively to resort to fight over flight, swivelling to hook a short ball that is fast and steep enough to mean the batsman cannot guarantee control. With around 359 degrees in which to safely send the ball skywards beyond the slips and in-fielders, Harris finds the one degree that is lethal to his innings - Ishant has only a few steps to make to complete the catch. Two down. Commercial break.

"It was just about being upfront and honest and taking responsibility."

Coming in at No. 3, Usman Khawaja has made Australia's only century in their past eight Tests, a monumental effort to save the Dubai Test against Pakistan. But against India, coming off a knee surgery that restricted his preparation, Khawaja has been struggling to assert himself, soaking up a lot of deliveries and only once, in the second innings in Perth, being able to find enough gaps and boundaries to get an innings going. For all the Dubai heroics, Khawaja remains something of a vulnerable operator against spin, and the low-slung left-arm orthodox of Ravindra Jadeja is perpetually seeking pads, gloves, edges or stumps.

Facing a footmark on a good length that has been unsettled by the pounding feet of Ishant, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, Khawaja props and spars at a ball that hits it, disturbing the turf and popping with bounce and some turn. The resultant inside edge flies obligingly to short leg, and Jadeja celebrates. A run of nine Tests with only a solitary hundred would be Australia's driest run in more than 100 years, since the first decade of the 20th century. Commercial break.

"It's nice to be back at the [Sutherland] club, I just love being in a contest. It's just you versus the bowler."

At 35, Shaun Marsh remains a "player of promise" in the eyes of many within the Australian system, and his ability to play shots while combining them with sturdy defence and good judgment around off stump are world class when at his best. But his best has always seemed to come and go like the winds swirling around the MCG's vast concrete bowl, and at a time when Australia's batting stocks have seldom been weaker, he has been unable to provide the consistency so desperately required.

So it is that on the stroke of lunch Marsh, having kept out Bumrah for much of the morning while scratching his way to 19, is completely flummoxed by a perfectly pitched slower-ball yorker that dips under his groping bat and hits pad and toe for a clear lbw verdict from the umpire Ian Gould. India's glee is matched by Australian grief - the last partnership of two specialist batsmen has been broken and the innings is a mere 33 overs old. Lunch. Long commercial break.

"I've certainly had some difficult days. But it's OK to be vulnerable."

No player has been a greater exemplar of Australia's recent tendency to identify and graduate talent early than Travis Head, an experienced Sheffield Shield player before his 20th birthday, captain of South Australia soon after, and now an established part of the national squad if not yet the Test team itself. The coach, Justin Langer, has remarked upon how quickly he has seen Head learning and growing, whether in the UAE or early Tests at home.

But, in Perth, he squandered a pair of fine opportunities to go on to a century by thrashing heedlessly outside the off stump and being caught at third man. In Melbourne, he throws his hands again at numerous deliveries flung wider by India's bowlers, before playing only vaguely and loosely in the vicinity of another accurate, stumps-seeking projectile from Bumrah. To be dismissed in that fashion, so soon after the resumption, leaves Australia floundering not only in the match, but the series. Commercial break.

"Everyone makes mistakes; it's about the way you respond to it that's really important."

Mitchell Marsh's return to the team had provoked boos from the parochial Victorian crowd, even though the length of India's first innings vindicated the decision to include a fifth bowler. But it is with the bat that Marsh now needs to summon the resourcefulness to rebuild in the company of the captain Tim Paine, and his effort is obvious in the overs after Head's departure. India, though, have an opponent with a distinct statistical advantage over Marsh - Jadeja.

When Marsh, his feet uncertain to the point that he turns a probable half-volley or full-toss into a viper spitting out of the rough, edges to slip, he has fallen to Jadeja for the third time in 66 balls, while scoring five runs.

With that dismissal, Australia's humiliation is more or less complete. Paine and the tail are unable to perform the sort of rearguard they had already been called upon for too often in this series. As Cummins observes after play, this has been a thoroughly deflating day for the bowlers in particular, affording them very little respite, and leaving India with a mighty lead to build on with plenty of time left.

"Not ideal. This morning we turned up hoping we'd all have our feet up, have a big dent into that first-innings score and be on our way to being right in the game or taking the result away from them," Cummins says. "It's one of those things, still a young batting group, seen them training for hours and hours trying to get better and, Alfie, the coach just talks about batting non-stop to them. They're all trying their best; it's just one of those things today that didn't come off, but obviously not ideal."

Less ideal, of course, is the absence of Steven Smith and David Warner, the banned duo at the centre of Australia's leadership but also the Newlands ball-tampering scandal. They have remained a presence via the news pages and the scheduling of interviews, press conferences and a commercial campaign by Smith around this Test match, the most visible of the Australian calendar. So it seems entirely fitting, if galling for Australia, that on one of the most critical days of the series, their absence as batsmen is felt more keenly than any PR campaign or commercial could achieve.

"You look at even the Indian side and how prolific [Cheteshwar] Pujara and Virat [Kohli] have been, their top two batsmen, they've had such a big impact on the series so far. So it is always going to be hard missing two of your best players," Cummins says. "But we've known for nine or 10 months it's going to be the case and others have to stand up and I think it probably highlights the class they've had in previous years, but we've got to find a way, I think. Everyone is here is good enough, they've done it a level below, all of them are the best Shield players, most of them have done it for Australia before, so we've definitely got the batsmen, hopefully it just clicks soon and we'll be away."

All through the day, television coverage of Australia's batting demise is punctuated with those phrases from Smith, repeated and repeated, causing irritation if not outright anger among viewers. They do not need any such reminders that Smith will be back soon, having performed the roles of club cricketer and community ambassador before holidaying in New York at present. All anyone needs to recall memories of Smith and Warner putting in studied hours of batting on slow pitches like this MCG strip is to look at the scoreboard, for the names that aren't there. Commercial break.

"I want to come back better than I was."