Australia misses chance to punish India on day three, but Marcus Harris offers hope
Marcus Harris impressed on the third day in Sydney. But then he got out. (AAP: Steve Christo)
On the whole, day three in Sydney for Australia was pretty good. Losing only six wickets in an admittedly shortened day represents improvement.
The only problem is that it could, and perhaps should, have been great.
It was the first time in a long time the Australian batsmen looked as if they were playing on the same pitch as their Indian counterparts, and the first time in a while they looked to be batting without fear of the bowling.
Unfortunately, that’s where the firsts ended. There were to be no breakthrough centuries on this day, no grand proclamations of prowess, only brief glimpses and soft dismissals.
The atmosphere at the SCG on Saturday was a strange one. The now-traditional Jane McGrath Day has become quite the occasion, with a packed crowd guaranteed and cricket that normally rises to the occasion.
The people were there, bathing the ground in pink, but proceedings seemed to resemble a glorified centre wicket training session for most of the day. Batting seemed like a walk in the park — until, inexplicably, it didn’t.
It’s not often you can say that every single dismissed batsman “threw one away”, but it’s probably not far from the truth here. There were no unplayable deliveries doing for Australians on this day, nor were there any of the periods of sustained pressure that has typified India’s bowling efforts on this tour.
At times, it was almost shocking how easy batting looked. Marcus Harris breezed through the first session of play like an experienced veteran, negotiating Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami with a straight bat and opening the shoulders to the spinners.
Harris has rightly been pinpointed as one of the few highlights of this series, and he looked every bit a long-term Test option for most of this innings.
Had your eyesight been a little shaky — and your memory of the last nine months even more so — you could almost have been tricked into thinking you were watching David Warner bat on the third morning.
The nudges and glides through the off side were very reminiscent of the man he may soon be partnering at the top of the order, as was the power he managed to garner from his punchy straight drives.
Harris’s audition for the full-time role was going about as well as he could have hoped. And then he got out.
A harmless Ravi Jadeja delivery was greeted by Harris’s needlessly dangling bat. His innings had been wildly praised by many a commentator for its “intent”, something that was noticeably lacking in his final, arbitrary shot.
Marnus Labuschagne looked equally as comfortable at the crease, driving smartly and handling some tight Indian bowling with a level of comfort that defied the pressure that had been placed upon him.
He played the most glorious straight drive off Shami at one point, leaning him down the ground in a fashion made famous by some of Australia’s great number threes. And then he got out.
Virat Kohli might think he’s figured Labuschagne out already, as he very swiftly deployed two catching men at midwicket and instructed his quicks to target the front pad. A blatant trap, but one the young Queenslander couldn’t help but fall into.
Usman Khawaja appeared at his laconic, graceful best on a pitch that was most certainly not testing him. And then he got out.
Travis Head defended solidly, and resisted the urge to swing wildly outside the off stump as had become his habit. And then he got out.
Hell, even Shaun Marsh played a couple of gorgeous drives before, well, you can imagine.
In truth, it was the sort of batting performance we’d expected this summer, with players displaying the talent they undoubtedly have while just lacking the Test match nous to take it further.
And really, there’s not much wrong with that. It’s where Australia is in this rebuild. People would cop that if it hadn’t been preceded by surrender in Melbourne.
So what was learned? Harris is a good one, just needs some fine-tuning, and Labuschagne isn’t the disaster he had been painted as pre-Test. With a bit of work, both could conceivably be viable options at this level.
It might not seem like much, but with the result of this series now inescapable, the stakes are pretty low. Any silver lining is worth cherishing.