Australia can’t wait for the fourth and final Test against India to get under way in Brisbane tomorrow (1am start SA time). With the series on a 1-all knife-edge after three matches going into the decider, the hosts look like the stronger side on paper given Hanuma Vihari and Ravindra Jadeja have been ruled out injured. Australia meanwhile, have made one change to the side that couldn’t close out the victory in Sydney this week, opening batsman Will Pucovski (shoulder injury) being replaced by Marcus Harris.
The hosts will celebrate the 100th Test appearance of their off-spinner Nathan Lyon and on the bouncy Gabba pitch they have a good record against these opponents, winning five of the six Tests they’ve played against India at the Brisbane venue. So, despite India showing so much fight in Sydney – they closed at 334 for 5, chasing 407 on the final day – they do look up against it. The bettig reflects that too, with Australia at 9-20 to win, the draw at 33-10 and India as wide as 7-1.
Another reason Australia can’t wait to get going is to quickly get past the talking point of the last match. Tim Paine, the wicketkeeper and captain, apologised for his sledging comments from behind the stumps to India’s Ravi Ashwin on the final day in Sydney. ‘I want to apologise for the way I went about things … my leadership wasn’t good enough, I let the pressure of the game get to me,’ the Australian skipper told reporters when the dust had settled the following morning.
However, what made for the most headlines was Australia’s former captain Steve Smith – he was in charge when “Sandpapergate” exploded in the 2018 Newlands Test against South Africa – seemingly rubbing out the batting guard of India’s Rishabh Pant with his own boots after a break in play.
“It’s one of his mannerisms, he was marking centre, he wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination trying to change guard or do anything like that,” Paine said in defence of his run-machine.
Many have rallied to back Smith, arguing that his damning actions were “part of his eccentricity”. Those who are backing the Australian as committing nothing but a harmless act, include the Australian coach Justin Langer. “I literally cannot believe some of the rubbish I read about Steve Smith,” he said. “Absolute load of rubbish; if anyone knows Steve Smith, he’s a bit quirky and he does some weird things and we’ve all laughed about it for the last couple of years.”
Paine chipped in again: “When he’s in the field, he likes to walk up to where he bats and visualise how he’s going to play. That’s something I have seen Steve do many times.”
At best Smith, who hit 131 and 81 in Sydney, can be accused of gamesmanship and at worst cheating. His problem is that he has what is called “previous”. Captain and subsequently suspended after his teammates planned and were caught cheating red-handed in Cape Town suggests that he isn’t as angelic as his features suggest.
All of Australia, both the cricket-mad public and the players, simply can’t wait for the first ball to be bowled at the Gabba to get on with talking about the game and not the integrity of their team.