SCG curators' incredible tribute to Shane Warne in pitch for third Test

Fate intervened for a final and fitting tribute to Shane Warne as Australia's Test summer comes to a close in Sydney.

Pat Cummins tosses the coin on the No.3 pitch at the SCG, with South Africa captain Dean Elgar on the left.
Pat Cummins tosses the coin on the No.3 pitch at the SCG, prepared as a nod to the late Shane Warne. (Photo by Brett Hemmings - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images) (Cricket Australia via Getty Imag)

Curators at the SCG have put together a fitting tribute to Shane Warne in the final Test of the summer, rolling out the No.3 pitch last used for his farewell match in 2007. The stars seemed to align to bring the long unused pitch back into action, with curator Adam Lewis buoyed by early feedback from players that the deck resembles the sort prepared a decade ago.

Situated two spots to the left of the usually used No.5 pitch, the deck for the New Year's Test was the final pitch not only for Warne, but longtime Test teammates Justin Langer and Glenn McGrath. With the regular pitch proving difficult to get up to scratch, Lewis said it seemed fitting to bring back the alternative one.

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The SCG has suffered in recent years from a series of batter-friendly wickets and rain ruining preparations, with a draw the result in five of the last eight Tests in Sydney. With the change in pitch though, Lewis said players had already commented on the difference.

"We're hoping for a traditional SCG pitch," Lewis said. "It's not quite what we've seen in the past few years. A few of the players have told me it looks like a wicket from about 10 years ago, which gave me a bit of confidence. It's thin on grass, a bit patchy and probably not the best looking pitch that we've seen, but we're looking forward to it and we've done the best we can."

Returning to a spinner-friendly wicket that gives slower bowlers a little more to work with would be a fitting nod to Warne's legacy. Lewis said the fact the pitch had been unused since 2007 had been in the back of his mind as the No.5 pitch became increasingly unwieldy.

"When we were doing our investigation, we worked out Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer had their final Test on pitch No.3," he said. "So in our planning we had that in the back of our mind.

"We tried bringing grass in on pitch No.5 as best we could, but with the amount of play we've had through the whole season, it just couldn't get there in time. Knowing that Shane Warne and the guys played their last Test on No.3, it just felt right so we put our energy into it.

"Shane was really good not just for players, he was always good for curators. He always stood up for us and knew we wore our heart on our sleeves."

Australia in selection dilemma after Matt Renshaw's COVID bout

Australia have slelected a second spinner, with Ashton Agar to make his Test comeback to bowl alongside Nathan Lyon. Fast bowler Scott Boland was unlucky to be dropped to make way for the returning Josh Hazelwood.

Matt Renshaw's first Test since 2018 has started in inauspicious fashion after the Aussie batter tested positive for Covid on the morning of the SCG match against South Africa. Renshaw was named in Australia's XI for the final Test of the series on Wednesday in his first appearance in the Aussie side in four years.

However commentators and fans noticed Renshaw was standing away from his teammates during the national anthem and didn't touch anyone. He was also spotted sitting on the boundary as Australia batted first, rather than in the dressing rooms.

Matt Renshaw looks on on day one of the third Test against South Africa at the MCG.
Matt Renshaw returned a positive COVID-19 sample on the day of his Test return, four years after his last match for Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Cricket Australia later revealed that Renshaw reported feeling unwell before play and has since returned a positive RAT. "He will continue to take part in the match," the statement said.

Ricky Ponting said in commentary after the anthem: "That is very strange to see that." Under ICC rules, teams can replace a player if they come down with Covid during a match, with Peter Handscomb on standby for the Aussies.

However it's unlikely Renshaw will give up his place in the side given he hasn't played Test cricket since 2018. The rule is “in line with concussion replacements” and allows the match referee to approve the “nearest like-for-like replacement”.

Renshaw's inclusion was one of three changes the Aussies made for the third Test, with Mitchell Starc and Cameron Green sidelined with finger injuries suffered at the MCG.

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