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Australia top order crumbles on day four

With the possible exception of Will Pucovski, seldom has more expectation accompanied a recent Australian debutant than that experienced by Cameron Green.

He had undoubtedly scored the runs to warrant his place at such a young age, cracking comfortably more than 1000 with four sizeable centuries in his most recent 12 Sheffield Shield games. Green also carried the promise of a possibly dominant allrounder having first been chosen by Western Australia as a bowler and scooping plenty of wickets before he was held prisoner by a series of back problems.

Add to this the prospect of starting out in the highest of high-profile Test series against India, and there was much for Green to take in, even before he took the batting and bowling creases. What spectators and viewers have seen of Green in the subsequent four matches is a player of enormous promise, undoubtedly, but one still smoothing the rough edges of his game with the bat and even more so with the ball.

He has, as Simon Katich observed during his breakout innings of 84 at the SCG, "two gears", those of stolid defence and then a much more freewheeling and powerful hitting game. The nuances of Test cricket require a range of different gears at many points in between those poles, as aptly demonstrated on the penultimate day of the series.

Green walked out to accompany a settled Steven Smith when Australia had just lost the fourth wicket of the morning session, Matthew Wade glancing into Rishabh Pants gloves and perhaps into history as far as his stop-start Test career is concerned. The Gabba surface, which has rewarded tight bowling throughout the match, had begun to deteriorate further in terms of the widening of existing cracks and the forming of new ones, while Mohammad Siraj was putting in yet another outstanding spell.

Perhaps genuflecting to Smith, who with every hour of this series has looked more like his usual Test match self and must now be looking forward to rejoining battle with South Africa three years since the unseemly events of 2018, Green concentrated almost solely on survival through his first 41 balls, managing only six singles in that time. He may also have been run out by his very first ball, edging Washington Sundar towards the covers and being reprieved on his instinctive dash for a single by the fact that the bowler was off-balance in retrieving it.

This period underlined that, at this developmental point, Green is still liable to be tied down by good bowling without the ability as yet to find unseen corners of the field in which to escape the strikes with singles or more forcefully turn the scoreboard over with twos. This meant that Smith, playing far more positively, took the major share of responsibility in the early part of their stand to ensure the scoring rate did not dip below three an over with time and the unpromising weather forecast on Australian minds.

A view pushed consistently by Greg Chappell down the years and now more widely understood, is the value of getting gifted players into the Australian side early on, the better for them to learn many of the required lessons at the highest possible level and thus mature as quickly as possible without gaining too many bad habits. It was the same philosophy that saw Smith himself make his Test debut for Australia as early as a 21-year-old in 2010 before ironing out the deficiencies in his game rapidly enough to be an international force by the age of 24.

So it should follow that, much as Smith has worked his way into this series, Green will be able to evolve in a timely fashion in his Test career. "I certainly feel as though I've got better as the series has gone on, just purely out of spending time in the middle that's for sure," Smith said.

"I think I said after Melbourne the longest I'd spent in the middle was 63 balls or whatever it was, the one-day hundreds that I scored at the SCG, and that was for about 12 months. So certainly been able to spend a good amount of time in the first innings in Sydney playing with really positive intent. That made me feel a lot more comfortable at the crease and able to find some rhythm.

"I thought [Green] batted really well. They bowled pretty well to him to be fair, the wicket was starting to do a few things. I reckon there was that one over from Natarajan where he copped a few, that's where the wicket started to sort of play a few more tricks. I think he got five balls in that over that did probably five different things."

The other half of Green's game, still taking time to unfold in the wake of back stress fractures, is that of a pace bowler who has the natural gifts of height and trajectory with which to worry most top players should he get all the mechanics into a sound enough order. This much was neatly summarised by Damien Fleming earlier in the Test, with the understanding that a bowler concentrating on technical form and changes to ensure the avoidance of future injuries will always take time to "groove" an action before full fluency returns.

"He bowls full and definitely shapes the ball away from the right-hand batsmen," Fleming said on Seven. "His first Test match in Adelaide, I think it was deliberate for him to bowl short to Virat Kohli. Now since that Test Match, I think he has bowled a fraction short, hasn't given that red Kookaburra enough time to swing in the air. I think it's due, isn't it? Your fourth Test match, get your first Test wicket?

"He's made changes to his action because of stress fractures. He's come into this series with hundreds of runs in Sheffield Shield so his batting technique is grooved, but unfortunately, he is still trying to groove this bowling action which over time is only going to benefit himself and the Australian cricket team. But, you know, four-over spells in Shield cricket coming into this Test series, I don't think he has built the confidence in his action yet."

That sort of confidence may be derived from a wicket or two, and this was certainly something Smith had in mind as he looked at some of the widening cracks at the Gabba. "All the boys have been really impressed with him around the group, the way he's handled everything as a young kid coming into play Test cricket," Smith said of Green.

"I think tomorrow he might actually be quite a handful with the ball, with that extra height and those cracks coming into play, I wouldn't be surprised to see him firstly take his first wicket in Test cricket, which I know he's pretty eager to get, but I think he might just be in for a pretty reasonable day."

If Green has not dominated moments of this series in the manner of India's find Siraj, he has shown enough poise at a young age to suggest that the formative lessons of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy will be converted into truly influential displays well before he reaches the age at which Smith finally felt at home as a Test cricketer.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig