After rain, a (mini) deluge: Aussie top order finds some semblance of form on a benign surface

After the rain relented, the clouds dispelled and the sun began to hammer down, Australia produced their most assertive batting performance of the series. Debutant Will Pucovski impressed with a half-century on debut, Marnus Labuschagne shone with his fluency, and Steve Smith cast away doubts over his form with a breezy unconquered 31. The trio compensated for the early loss of the returning David Warner to pile 166 runs for the loss of two wickets on a rain-shortened day in Sydney.

Just to put the improvement in perspective, Australia were eight down when they reached the same score in the first innings in Melbourne; in the second, they had lost seven wickets; in Adelaide they had eight wickets back in the pavilion by this stage. At the heart of the comeback was a combination of factors — a more purposeful approach, a strip without pace and bounce, unimaginative Indian bowling, and Rishabh Pant dropping a pair of straightforward catches when the match was still in India’s firm grip.

But take nothing away from the purposefulness of the Aussie batsmen, starting with the incredibly serene Pucovski. The 22-year-old shed little nerves as he resolutely blunted the new-ball onslaught. Like most Australian openers of the past, he possesses a pronounced shuffle across the crease than a prominent front-foot stride. But he doesn’t overcommit to the backfoot, maintains a balanced posture, and doesn’t needlessly lunge forward. How Australia has missed an opener of his assuredness in defence! Later, as his innings progressed, Pucovski demonstrated his crisp stroke-play. A backfoot punch off Navdeep Saini’s first ball in Test cricket was delightful, emphatic was the follow-up pull shot that brought up his half-century. Only a couple of short balls that reached shoulder-height troubled him.