16th over: Australia 39-2 (Labuschagne 8, Smith 15) Siraj to Labuschagne, and the slightly manic start to this day has now settled into a bit of Test match rhythm. Labuschagne plays off his pads and there’s a flurry as leg slip scrambles across to stop that ball. India have bowled with that catcher in place to this batting pair through the series, and it’s got them both out before. Labuschagne with 8 from 47 balls after seeing off another scoreless over.
Here’s an email from Jane worth a smile. “Lovely, funny and informative OBO commentary thank you – Aberdonian in New Zealand cheering for India – thinking my old dad will be following same from Aberdeen in the snow. Nice to think you connect us!”
Nice to think we’re all connected by this, thank you for being here. Hello to Jane’s dad.
15th over: Australia 39-2 (Labuschagne 8, Smith 15) Shardul continues from the Vulture Street End, still getting a nice bit of shape in the air. Smith defends a couple, leaves a couple, Thakur working the channel outside off stump. No run from the over.
14th over: Australia 39-2 (Labuschagne 8, Smith 15) Down the leg side from Siraj after drinks, and swings away for four byes. That makes 10 extras out of 39. No, nobody went and marked Steve Smith’s guard during the drinks break.
If you want some more depth on that entirely overblown story, here’s one I prepared earlier.
Tane Aikman emails from across the Tasman. “Cracking series this. As a New Zealand fan I’m utterly overjoyed and slightly weirded out by how good our team is (when not playing Australia), but these are the two best Test sides in the world. If only because we don’t have a spinner close to Ashwin and Lyon’s level. Still, on a typical English wicket we’d be in with a good shout against either. Does anyone with more mathematical skills than me (ie any) know what the implications of this game for the Test Championship are? Will a draw keep both teams ahead of New Zealand, or would they need to get a winning record in their next series to make the final?”
Great question. I think that Adam Collins and I worked this out on our podcast the other day. So, the WTC qualification this time around will done on a percentage of results out of the matches you’ve played. Because covid meant so many tours were postponed. Meaning that India’s upcoming four matches against England actually give them the chance to bomb out of the top two.
Australia’s spot is pretty much set, I think, but India will have to either win three and draw two of their remaining five Tests, including this one, or win four and lose one. So if they do lose here, they’ll have to whitewash England 4-0 in India to avoid being jumped by NZ. If anyone thinks that’s wrong, correct away.
13th over: Australia 35-2 (Labuschagne 8, Smith 15) Hello, Steven Smith! He steps across his stumps so Thakur tries to do a Bumrah and kiss his leg stump. Smith does not want to be kissed. He smacks the attempt away through backward square for four. Thakur goes outside off next ball, pitched up and swinging away, and Smith reads the swing, steps to the line, and creams it through cover! The full stride and flourish. He looks very good, very quickly. Flicks a straight ball for two more to take the yield from the over to double figures. Drinks.
12th over: Australia 25-2 (Labuschagne 8, Smith 5) After a nervy first eight (attempted) deliveries, Natarajan is giving nothing away. The same can’t be said for his fielders though, who cost him a single and a brace in that over by fumbling ground balls.
11th over: Australia 22-2 (Labuschagne 6, Smith 4) Thakur is hitting a nice line to Labuschagne! Tempts him into a drive to a ball that swings and beats the edge. Gets the ball to keep swerving away from the bat, not a huge amount but visibly. A maiden over with some class.
“Good morning Geoff,” writes Ray Murphy. “Surely Jackson Bird is still good enough for the AUS 2nd XI?”
Good shout Ray, I’ll give him a cap for our imaginary injury squad. Saw him bowl like a dream in 2016 in… Wellington? Christchurch? Think it was the second Test. Suddenly that’s a long time ago in a cricket life.
10th over: Australia 22-2 (Labuschagne 6, Smith 4) Natarajan keeps trying to tempt Smith with the line across, and Smith outlasts him: eventually the bowler gets too straight and the batsman can tap him away for a single. Labuschagne follows with another to mid-on.
9th over: Australia 20-2 (Labuschagne 5, Smith 3) The wicket first ball brings SPD Smith to the crease. Another early entrance for him after Warner and Harris failed. Ashes flashbacks, anyone? Maybe he’s having them too, because he forces a drive down the ground for three to get going quickly.
WICKET! Harris c Sundar b Thakur 5, Australia 17-2
Shardul Thakur with his first ball of the match! Well, well, well. On his Test debut in 2018 he got through 1.4 overs and couldn’t continue with injury. He’s had a long wait for another chance and he gets that sweet reward at the earliest moment, taking his first Test wicket. He’s a swing bowler, and he swings the ball into Harris’ pads, leading Harris to try clipping through midwicket. He’s partially beaten by the movement and clips it squarer and airborne to Sundar at square leg.
8th over: Australia 17-1 (Harris 5, Labuschagne 5) A maiden from Natarajan to Labuschagne, the left-armer angling it across repeatedly and being left.
7th over: Australia 17-1 (Harris 5, Labuschagne 5) In a shock for us all, Marcus Harris plays a huge slash outside off stump and is beaten by bounce from Siraj. Then accidentally gets bat on a ball that he’s trying to leave and nearly plays it onto his stumps. Gets a single from that, as does Labuschagne from another glance. Siraj isn’t coping with the switch from left-hander to right.
So India won their last tour to Australia by having a squad of five fine quick bowlers. All of them are now injured: Bhuvi, Ishant, Shami, Umesh, Bumrah. Then they’ve lost their two best spinners in Ashwin and Jadeja. If Australia had suffered a similar toll they would have lost Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood and Lyon, then James Pattinson and Michael Neser, plus Mitchell Swepson. The bowling attack would currently be something like Lloyd Pope, Jason Behrendorff, Jhye Richardson and… comeback for Joe Mennie? Chadd Sayers? Chris Tremain? The contrast is interesting.
6th over: Australia 15-1 (Harris 4, Labuschagne 4) So India have used 19 players in this series, which Adam Collins is telling me is the most they’ve used in a series since the early 1960s. Presumably that was at home. Poor old Kuldeep, who took a back of wickets against Australia two years ago but can’t get a gong this time around despite the injury toll. The rationale for playing Sundar, despite him being an IPL style fast spinner, is that he can bat, so he’s being backed at No7 to let India play four quicks. They could have added Prithvi Shaw to bolster the batting with Kuldeep at 8, and they may feel Kuldeep’s absence: SK Warne always says this was the best ground to bowl wrist spin.
Natarajan bowls another five dot balls to Labuschagne after Harris glances a single.
5th over: Australia 14-1 (Harris 4, Labuschagne 4) Siraj to Labuschagne, who defends, defends, defends, defends, but as soon as Siraj drops short Marnus bangs the pull shot away to the square leg fence to open his scoring. His home deck, he knows how it plays. That surface smells like runs from here in the grandstand. It’s shining brightly in the Queensland sunlight. Bright day here, on the hot side. It’ll be hard work out there.
4th over: Australia 10-1 (Harris 3, Labuschagne 0) Another Natarajan over that starts with a no-ball, but doesn’t yield any other runs. The left-armer is bowling to the left-handed Harris, mostly straight, and Harris tries the on-drive a couple of times but can’t get it past mid on. Strikes them crisply though. The total versus runs off the bat split is 10-4, good buddy.
3rd over: Australia 9-1 (Harris 3, Labuschagne 0) Siraj continues with the wind in his sails, and he’s achieved what so many touring teams have not at the Gabba: get rid of Warner early. More often than not Warner has still been there in the third session at the right end of a huge score. Siraj bowls down leg side to Labuschagne who gets some thigh pad on it for four leg byes. Four runs off the bat for Australia, five extras.
2nd over: Australia 5-1 (Harris 3, Labuschagne 0) “Come on Marnus!” shout a few Queenslanders as the first drop makes his way to the middle after six balls. Thangarasu Natarajan, the left-armer who bowled so well in the limited-overs games last November and December, has the ball. A T20 debut, an ODI debut, and now a Test debut on the same tour. He’s more nervous about this one than any other, I’ll wager, given he starts with a no-ball, then bowls way down leg side, and finishes with one very wide of off stump, curling away from Harris. No runs off the bat though, that’s something.
WICKET! Warner c Rohit b Siraj 1, Australia 4-1
1st over: Australia 4-1 (Harris 3) Siraj does the job in his first over! Warner takes the first ball of the match and scores a single, Harris slants three runs away in front of point, but from the final ball of the over Siraj strikes. Right-arm across the left-hander, pitched up full and straight but swinging away, squares up Warner who skews a catch into the cordon and Rohit from second slip comes sprawling across to his right to snare the dying ball just above the turf. Quality grab!
A nice atmosphere walking up to the ground, lots of people milling around in their sun hats and summer shirts, so there is some festive feel to the Test match still. A few connection issues on arrival too, but we’re here and underway.
Changes galore. Harris in for the injured Pucovski for Australia. India will miss Ashwin, Jadeja, Vihari and Bumrah from the Sydney draw with injury. No Kuldeep Yadav, Wriddhiman Saha, or Prithvi Shaw. Instead Natarajan and Thakur will both play as part of a four-pronged bowling attack, Pant will bat six and keep, with Washington Sundar at seven as the spinner. Agarwal is recalled but in the middle order with Gill staying up top.
Tim Paine * +
Ajinkya Rahane *
Rishabh Pant +
Australia win the toss and will bat
Uh-oh for India! That toss is usually very important at the Gabba, a ground where big scores often come in the first innings. Tim Paine says “The pitch looks a lot drier than it normally does this early, and there’s already one big crack running down the middle.”
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If you’ve stumbled into the OBO for the first time, rocking its batwing doors open only to have the occupants of the saloon turn to stare at you blearily, we welcome your correspondence. Observations, insights, takes of the unexpected. I don’t mind. My Guardian email address and my non-Guardian Twitter address are in a sidebar that you’ll find on your page. Unlike some, I have not been banned from the platform for inciting insurrection, and will not need to make my cricket observations via political press releases.
Welcome to Brisbane, or Mianjin, specifically to the famous cricket ground in Woolloongabba just south of the river that twists and writhes like a great snake out towards the coast. It’s time for the Guardian over-by-over once more, with the fourth and final Test between Australia and India upon us. The Gabba ground is usually host to the first match of the summer, but in a viral age that was all turned upside down.
The series sits at 1-1. Meaning, obviously enough, that whichever side wins here will win the series and the Border-Gavaskar trophy. If it’s a draw, India will retain the trophy as the current holders.
We’re got a couple of sore and sorry teams coming into this game, with the Indians a bit more sore and the Australians a bit more sorry. More on that as we discuss the XIs as they come to hand. The toss will be in 20 minutes, play will start in 50. En garde.