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3rd Test, Sydney, January 07 - 11, 2021, India tour of Australia
338 & 312/6d
(T:407) 244 & 334/5

Match drawn

Player Of The Match
131 & 81

Australia on strong footing after Will Pucovski, Marnus Labuschagne fifties

David Warner falls cheaply on return, but Steven Smith seems to have put his troubles behind him

Vishal Dikshit
Vishal Dikshit
Stumps Australia 166 for 2 (Labuschagne 67*, Pucovski 62, Smith 31*) vs India
Half-centuries from Marnus Labuschagne and Will Pucovski, the debutant, gave Australia much that they had missed desperately in the first two Tests, where 200 was their highest innings total. The two negated the R Ashwin threat, put up a century stand, and set the platform for Steven Smith to get back among the runs and put Australia in a strong position. With an unbeaten 67, a 13th 50-plus score in his 28th innings, Labuschagne led Australia to a solid 166 for 2 at stumps after the first two sessions were heavily truncated because of the weather.
Like in Adelaide and Melbourne, dropped catches played a part in the way the sessions swung - the two Rishabh Pant put down certainly pushed India on the back foot. Both lives were for Pucovski, on 26 and 32, and he went on to score 62 before being trapped lbw by fellow debutant Navdeep Saini.
Soon after Smith walked in at 106 for 2, India brought Ashwin back - the spinner had accounted for Smith twice in the series in the space of 23 balls. The tension was palpable; Ashwin desperate to have a go, and Smith eager to step out and hit Ashwin down the ground and stamp his authority. Smith was nearly dismissed on 26 when he went down and was beaten in the flight but the ball clipped his pads and went past the stumps. And, four overs later, there was an animated appeal for a bat-pad catch. Smith seemed fine, and Ajinkya Rahane almost called for the review before, correctly, deciding against it.
The bulk of the heavy lifting from Australia was done in the wicketless second session, when the ball was new and Labuschagne and Pucovski still fresh at the crease. An exciting first hour unfolded with India's quicks hitting accurate lines for their two slips and the leg-side fields that included a silly mid-on for Mohammed Siraj. But the batsmen saw the bowlers through with watchful eyes and patient leaves, not stressing about the scoring rate. Ashwin, introduced in the 14th over, was the first to create a chance as he mixed things up - floaters, flatter ones, the orthodox flighted deliveries with drift that even got some turn - when he induced an outside edge off Pucovski, but Pant put it down and Ashwin's spell ended at 5-1-7-0.
Three overs later, Pucovski got a glove on a short ball from Mohammed Siraj that got big on him and Pant ran back for the loopy catch, but he first couldn't hold on as he dived, and then couldn't get his gloves under the ball in time while desperately grabbing at it again. Pucovski got a third life on 39 as well when he went for a third run but Labuschagne sent him back and he was saved only by Jasprit Bumrah's inaccurate throw after he had slipped in the outfield.
By now, both batsmen had their eyes in, the ball wasn't new anymore, and the sun had elbowed the clouds away. After a phase of 18 straight dot balls, Labuschagne pounced on Ashwin when he pitched too short or outside off. When Ashwin was accurate, Labuschagne carefully closed the face of his bat with soft hands, and deftly evaded the waiting short leg and leg slip time and again. In the last over before tea, Pucovski welcomed Saini with a fierce cut and a powerful pull for consecutive fours to bring up his half-century as they scored 46 runs in the ten overs before the break to push the scoring rate up.
Pucovski, however, lasted only ten deliveries after tea, when Saini got the better of him, but Australia swiftly crossed three figures with their second batch of 50 runs coming off just 58 deliveries after the first took 140. Labuschagne dug in and punished Siraj's full deliveries for fours to cross 50 whereas Smith collected three fours in the space of four deliveries off Bumrah and Saini to race to 13 off 11 that set the tone for his innings that got to 31 by stumps.
Rain earlier ate up plenty of overs after allowing only 35 minutes of play in the first session after Australia opted to bat. The hosts were buoyed by the return of David Warner, who was clearly less than a 100% in his running between the wickets. He was iffy outside off too, and one of those led to his dismissal when he flashed twice in a row and on second attempt, got a thick edge to fall for 5 off Siraj. It was Warner's lowest score at home since November 2016, also the last time he scored in single digits in a Test on Australian soil.

Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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