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6.55pm local time/1.25pm IST: Australia on top after first day
Smith tells the broadcasters he was looking to be "positive, wouldn't say aggressive" against Ashwin after the spinner got the better of him earlier in the series. With that session, that saw only one wicket, we've come to the end of the first day that saw only 55 overs, which means early start for the rest of the days, starting 10am local time (4.30am IST). The hosts are looking set for a big score here on this flat pitch and India's inexperienced attack will have to do a lot more to tilt the game in their favour. Not to forget, they'll have to hold on to the catches too after the two drops today. That's a wrap from me, catch you all tomorrow for the live action and this Live Report again. The end of day report will be up soon.
6.30pm local time/1pm IST: Labuschagne chugs long
Australia are finally looking set to cross 200 for the first time this series, and today it's largely thanks to Marnus Labuschagne. While most of the focus has been on the two debutants and Smith, Labuschagne is now ticking along with a strike rate of nearly 50 to keep Australia on top. His patience laid the foundation early with Pucovski for a century stand, he negated R Ashwin's threat early on, and he even set the platform for Smith to get back among the runs on this batting-friendly track. He has blunted Ashwin carefully on the leg side by closing the face of the bat at the right time and playing with soft hands; he was the first one to punish the spinner when he pitched too wide or short in the second session. And Labuschagne has also been on the prowl for the loose deliveries from the quick; they pitch too short, he cuts, and if they are too full, like Siraj was few overs ago, he'll drive and drive you for more boundaries. He's batting nicely on 65, his ninth Test half-century.
Meanwhile, Jadeja into the attack for the last eight overs of the day.
6pm local time/12.30pm IST: It's Smith vs Ashwin
In the first two Tests Ashwin was responsible for two of Smith's three dismissals in only 23 balls, threatening both edges of the bat. Now he's back in the attack after Smith has faced 15 balls. Was it a bit too late? The tension of the contest is palpable; Ashwin desperately wants Smith on strike, and Smith is eager to dominate Ashwin this time. At the start of the second over of Ashwin's spell, Smith dances down and lofts him over mid-on to signal his aggression and mindset. Remember, Smith said this to SEN Radio after the second Test:
"I probably haven't played Ashwin as well as I would've liked. I probably would've liked to have put him under a bit more pressure. I've sort of let him dictate terms and that's something I've probably never let any spinner do in my career."
5.25pm local time/11.55am IST: Debutant gets debutant
Saini's first two balls in Test cricket had been struck for fours with disdain by Pucovski just before tea. And now, Saini comes back, adjusts his length and shows that still targeting the stumps is not a bad idea at all. He bowls a full delivery to Pucovski, the batsman shuffles across the stumps as he's done the whole day against the quick bowlers, misses the flick and is struck in front to be given lbw. Saini is clearly fired up: he runs in hard next ball and oversteps for a no-ball against Smith. Another ball later, Saini delivers a yorker that Smith clips to the leg side and gets off the mark. Australia 108 for 2 with Smith and Labuschagne batting now, and India will be hoping they can get one more before these two settle into a partnership.
4.55pm local time/11.25am IST: Pucovski gets to fifty before tea
With those two reprieves and a close run-out miss from the deep, Pucovski has welcomed fellow debutant Navdeep Saini with two powerful strokes to stamp his authority. A fierce cut off the back foot off the first ball and then a handsome pull to smash Saini past mid-on for four on the next ball to reach 53 in the last over before tea. Australia now looking on top with their scoring rate at three per over, having put together 46 runs in the last 10 overs. Here's Sid Monga:
If you were going to look at one figure to sum up India's bowling effort today, it is R Ashwin's figures of 9-1-33-0. You go deeper, and you see it is a spell of two parts: 5-1-7-0 of amazing offspin bowling on an unhelpful day-one track, a drop catch, and then 26 runs in the next four overs.
Ashwin's success this series has relied on shutting down right-hand batsmen by making them play to a heavily populated leg-side field. Which is what he kept doing in the first five overs, mixing it with the drifting delivery that challenges the outside edge. With the last ball of that fifth over, he drew the edge. Now when you are outmatched and have a thin attack, you need everything to go your way to pull off wins like Melbourne. Dropped catches are a part of life in Test cricket, but with India's attack you can't afford those.
Ninety overs into the series, Ashwin now began to tire and perhaps bowled more bad balls in the next four overs than he has bowled all series. A big part of his success has been in not allowing the batsmen to hit him against the spin into the off side. For that to happen, he either has to go too wide or too short. He has been erring on the short side. In just one spell, he has conceded 24 off-side runs to right-hand batsmen in Sydney. In Adelaide he gave 28, in Melbourne 51. And those tiring legs and more frequent loose balls might become the story if Australia can keep India on the field long enough.
4.30pm local time/11am IST: Pant drops Pucovski twice!
In the space of 10 minutes and 12 balls Pucovski faced, Rishabh Pant has dropped the debutant twice! Not easy chances by any measure, both of them, but you'd like the keeper to take them because they won't come often on a flat pitch.
The first came at the end of the 22nd over when Ashwin lured Pucovski into a forward lean outside off and beat him on the outside edge but Pant had his hands moving with a bit of gap between them and couldn't hold on. Pucovski was on 26. And the second was off Siraj who pounded in a bouncer that rose on Pucovski and took his glove, went behind Pant who ran back and put in a dive and even got both hands to the ball but it escaped again, and he tried again to get his hands under the ball before it could touch the ground but didn't do it cleanly enough. Pucovski saved on 32 this time.
4.10pm local time/10.40am IST: Eyes on the debutant
Gnasher is finally getting to watch some cricket at the SCG after the rain break:
There has been an impressive calmness to Will Pucovski's debut Test innings so far. Any Test opener will be beaten on occasions, but he has not appeared rushed or flustered although has been given a life on 26 when Rishabh Pant could not hold onto a thin edge against R Ashwin (I'll leave the wicketkeeper debate to others). The battle against top-quality spin will be fascinating one. His first boundary, the hook off Mohammed Siraj, had some top edge about but he was committed to the stroke and it was well away from the field. There is a simplicity and crispness to his strokeplay - both qualities that have been on display in abundance during a first-class career that already includes three double centuries - with a game based on timing not brute force. It is perhaps a little surprising that India have tried a more sustained period of short-pitched bowling at him, but they are probably conscious of not wasting the new ball on a well-grassed surface.
3.25pm local time/9.55am IST: The leg-side fields in focus
More than five overs bowled since play resumed and two different kind of fields so far while keeping two slips and a gully. For Siraj India have kept a silly mid-on, midwicket and square leg, and for Bumrah there's an orthodox mid-on and two square legs - one behind square and one in front. Both bowlers are sticking to their usual plan of bowling on or around the stumps with the odd short ball. Pucovski and Labuschagne are being very watchful, though, and are leaving plenty of deliveries outside off, unleashing the pull or flick on the occasional delivery that's either too short or full. There was a loud lbw appeal on the second ball after play resumed but we haven't seen its ball-tracking yet, strangely. And hello! Only 13 overs into a Test in Australia and we have Ashwin into the attack, with a slip and short leg. Australia 36 for 1.
2.50pm local time/9.20am IST: SCG will BRB
So it's a 3pm local time start (9.30am IST), finally! And since we've had enough cricket, tea will be taken at 4.40pm local time. We can see some blue skies over the SCG, and it's much brighter now. Umpire Paul Reiffel confirms the 3pm start and says the area just behind where the bowler jumps up before delivery is still a bit damp so the leaf blowers are drying that out.
2.25pm local time/8.55am IST: Sun is shining (kind of)
Fingers crossed, the next inspection is at 2.30pm local time or 9am IST. Let's hope and pray the rain stays away until then at least. It was raining or drizzling on this very day at the same ground two years ago as well, and on that occasion it wiped out the final day of the fourth match to give India a historic (2-1) series win in Australia for the first time. Australia were made to follow on for the first time at home since 1988. The architects of the victory were Cheteshwar Pujara, who made 521 runs in the series, including 193 in Sydney, and Jasprit Bumrah, who took 21 wickets at 17. Rishabh Pant, followed up his maiden Test hundred, at The Oval in 2018, with a second in Sydney.
All that and more in our On This Day page for January 7.
1.55pm local time/8.25am IST: Ponting's take on Warner not 100% fit
Gnasher can also talk cricket in between his weather updates:
During his brief innings David Warner certainly did not appear that comfortable between the wickets. It was always accepted he wouldn't be 100% fit for this game, but in the build-up it wasn't the batting or running that was the main cause for concern but how he would go in the field. On Channel Seven, Ricky Ponting suggested the booming shots Warner played, with the last resulting in an edge to slip, may have indicated he was having problems.
"I think everyone knew that he probably wasn't going to be 100% coming into the Test match," Ponting said. "The only thing I hope is that he hasn't tweaked it again, doing something more there. It was pretty much from that moment on that those loose shots started. So hopefully it wasn't playing on his mind, hopefully he's okay and hopefully we can just say that that's the way David Warner plays a shot like that early on in a Test match."
1.40pm local time/8.10am IST: It's a cat and mouse game
As soon as the India players emerged for a warm-up, it started to rain again. It's pretty dark and gloomy at the SCG, a bit windy and the covers back on intact. Here it from the Pauls yourself...
1.20pm local time/7.50am IST: Still no play
"The rain has stopped now and it's much brighter," our weatherman Gnasher reports from the ground. "The groundstaff and fourth umpire are coming out. And covers are coming off." Umpires Paul Reiffel and Paul Wilson also having a look at the conditions, the next inspection is at 1.30pm local time (8am IST).
12.25pm local time/6.55am IST: Lunch taken
No respite from rain yet so let's make sense of debutant Will Pucovski's situation during the lunch break (I'm having black coffee to stay up though). Making a debut after a long concussion history, he's already faced two bouncers in the first 35 minutes of play, and will now feel some sort of responsibility to score after Warner's early dismissal. Remember, it's not been a great series for openers so far. We've already seen him walk across a fair bit to the fast bowlers, and a leg gully was kept for him too after the first few overs. He must be expecting more short balls once play resumes, and his state coach Chris Rogers looks back at Pucovski's recent form and how he prepares for short balls.
"When I first turned up as coach of Victoria, him and Sammy Harper, they do a lot of work with tennis balls, getting in really close with a tennis racquet and firing them in at each other. Will's done a heap of work where he wants to stand up and roll the ball down to fine leg. You'll see that shot from him quite a bit," Rogers told RSN Radio. "Then it came to the matches and we played SA early on and Wes Agar came on first change and went straight to bouncers at Will, and he pretty much ducked them for the whole first session.
"Then after lunch he played one of these rolling pull shots and from there he never looked back. They targeted him with the short ball for prettymuch the whole game and then WA did it from about the ninth over onwards as well. He would have faced a heap of short balls and he looked comfortable doing it and the way he stood up and played it, he made it look easy. So when that happened on day three at Drummoyne, it was an awkward situation where there was nothing to gain and he probably just got caught in two minds, so hopefully he'll learn from that."
12pm local time/6.30am IST: Still drizzling
I'm not going to say, "I told you so" about the rain but it's back and it's a "reasonably steady drizzle again," says Gnasher from the ground. I forgot to mention, the fourth/reserve umpire today is Claire Polosak, the first female match official in a men's Test match. She was out on the field some time back with her umbrella and the other match officials.
11.40am local time/6.10am IST: Play resuming soon
Play is set to resume at 11.45 local time (6.15am IST), unless rain arrives again by the time you read this. Fans appear to be having a good time at the SCG though.
11.15am local time/6.10am IST: Rain arrives at SCG
Rain was forecast and here it is! It's largely the pitch that is covered with the umpires out under the umbrellas after the players jogged off the field. Andrew McGlashan from the ground: "There is a line of showers coming up from the south. Today was the day with the highest chance of interruptions. The forecast for the next four days is good." Twelve minutes after the players went off, the rain has stopped and the covers are coming off.
Will be interesting to see if this will add any swing once play resumes. Meanwhile, there's been a lot of debate on social media on Mayank Agarwal's exclusion. Was it fair to leave him out? Vote in the poll below:
11am local time/5.30am IST: Siraj removes Warner for 5
A very intriguing 18-minute stay for Warner. He was running those quick singles with visible discomfort in his groin, eager to rotate the strike, and falls after flashing well outside off twice in a row off Siraj. On the second ball of the fourth over he went after one that seamed away from outside off, and when Siraj pitched it away further and a tad fuller next ball, Warner didn't move his feet enough to get close to the ball while chasing it, and edged to first slip. Pucovski, meanwhile, is leaving well outside off while walking across the stumps a bit, and got a bouncer in the very first over from Bumrah. No swing at all in this pitch even though there was some rain in the lead up to the Test, and some more is expected today and tomorrow. Australia 18 for 1 after the first half hour. "Looks like a very good batting track," Glenn McGrath says on TV commentary.
10.35am local time/5.05am IST: Warner and Pucovski walk out
Boy, will Australia be excited by Warner's return. He's still not 100% fit after his groin injury but given the nature of this series and what all is at stake, Australia have decided to play him, partnered by a debut. Tim Paine said at the toss Warner's "high energy" will bolster their "confidence". Not to forget, Australia have endured their slowest scoring home series of the century so far, just ahead of the 2018-19 series which also didn't feature Warner. Pucovski, on the other hand, has been around the Test set-up for close to a year now, has a history of concussion injuries, and has bossed his way into the Test XI with plenty of runs in domestic cricket. Here's more on Pucovski's journey so far.
10.10am local time/4.40am IST: Two more debuts in the series
After Cameron Green in Adelaide, Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj at the MCG, we have two more debutants as expected: Will Pucovski and Navdeep Saini. Pucovski given the cap by Andrew McDonald and Saini by Jasprit Bumrah. Australia have opted to bat, with David Warner coming in place of Travis Head, and Matthew Wade moving down to the middle order. For India, we already knew yesterday that Rohit Sharma will open with Mayank Agarwal given the axe, and Saini making his debut because Umesh Yadav has flown back home.
Speaking of fast bowlers, India's pace battery has Jasprit Bumrah, Siraj and Saini with a combined Test experience of 17 compared to Australia's tally of 144, thanks to Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. That's one thing Australia will be excited about that they haven't had to change their attack since the first Test.
10am local time/4.30am IST: More reports about doubts over fourth Test in Brisbane
And we have news coming in already, even before the coin has been flipped. Here's Andrew McGlashan with what's brewing in Australia for the Brisbane Test:
Cricket Australia will seek clarification from the BCCI after more suggestions emerged that India would not travel to Brisbane for the final Test but continue to insist they have not been made aware of concerns. And a report on Thursday morning said that the BCCI had officially written to CA to say they did not want to head to Brisbane. However, ESPNcricinfo understands that the updated plans for the Gabba Test, in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak in Sydney which led to border restrictions to Queensland, were approved by the BCCI office bearers on December 29 and no objections have been received since.
CA have largely been dealing with BCCI secretary Jay Shah and it's understood will seek further conversations on Thursday.
The players are not confined to their rooms when at the team hotels in Sydney and Brisbane - which have been entirely booked out by Cricket Australia - and are able to mingle in communal areas. The one difference is that the restrictions in Sydney are CA protocols while those in Brisbane are imposed by the Queensland government as the terms to allow exemptions to be granted.
9.55am local time/4.25am IST: Warming up for toss
Hello everyone and a very warm welcome to the third Test of this exciting series that's level 1-1. Another Test, possible another set of debuts (there's at least one confirmed from India), another tight race for the WTC points and the ICC rankings (New Zealand are on top now), another debate on selection, another discussion on who is going to open, and much much more. I'll steal Tim Paine's words and just say there is "tension starting to boil under the surface".