Stand-in Australia captain Steve Smith has gone into bat for teammate Peter Handscomb after the batter's first innings during the third Test against India was described as "un-Australian" by cricket great Matthew Hayden. On a treacherous pitch in Indore that saw the home side skittled for just 109 runs after winning the toss and batting first, Handscomb scored 19 runs off 98 balls before finally being removed by Ravi Ashwin.
The Aussies went on to score a comfortable nine-wicket victory to leave the series at 2-1 heading into the fourth and final Test in Ahmedabad, starting on Thursday. However, Hayden was highly critical of the way Handscomb batted and took aim at the 31-year-old's slow scoring rate.
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“He was very, very defensive with his mindset,” Hayden had said in commentary for Star. “His strike rate o under 20 means that you are not going anywhere, and the scoreboard is not going anywhere, and that’s a product of some really tough batting conditions... he was sort of like a sitting duck in many ways.
“It’s almost un-Australian. I don’t want anyone out there to think that I’m overly criticising Pete, I’m not. It’s just not quite attacking enough. It’s such a tricky balance.”
Smith took exception to Hayden's comments and argued that Handscomb has been one of Australia's best batters this series, having earned a recall to the Test side after years in the wilderness. Handscomb made scores of 31 and 6 in the first Test, followed by a 72 not out and a duck in the second Test.
“I was pretty disappointed to see some of the comments last Test match around him not playing the Australian way,” Smith said of Handscomb. “He’s batted the same in the first innings throughout the whole series.
“I think he’s been outstanding. The first two Test matches [31 and 72 not out] in the first innings of both and left pretty much stranded. If one of the other top seven were able to get in a partnership with him, things could certainly be different.”
“He batted beautifully in the first two, he’s stuck to his method, he’s trusted his defence, and then scored off balls that were either over-pitched or too short and played them off the back foot. His method has proved it’s worked in difficult conditions. So I was shocked to see some comments about the way he was playing because I think him and Uzzy [Khawaja] have probably been arguably our two best batters in this series.”
Steve Smith confident of runs in fourth Test
Smith will once again fill in as acting captain for the fourth Test in the absence of Pat Cummins, who has returned home to be by his ailing mother's side in Sydney. The 33-year-old says he's confident the visitors can rediscovere their form with the bat after a series that has been very much dominated by the bowlers in India.
Mystery has surrounded the pitch for the fourth and final Test with curators leaving the covers on two of the wickets in Ahmedabad in the lead-up to the match. Smith said he couldn't recall ever experiencing such a situation throughout his career but revealed during practice on Wednesday that the one curators have apparently opted for, looks to be the best surface for batting on this series.
"Yeah rocked up today and there was only one covered so yeah looks like they have chosen," Smith said. "Looks like probably of the four wickets we've seen so far, potentially the flattest on day one. Having said that, it's I think 38 degrees out there at the moment, it's pretty hot. Looks like it'll dry out as the day goes on."
Smith strongly hinted that Australia would again play the spin trio of Nathan Lyon, Matthew Kuhnemann and Todd Murphy again, after the three-spin approach reaped rewards in the third Test. Lyon took eight wickets to dismiss India for 163 in their second innings on a pitch that turned from day one in the third Test. Newcomer Murphy has been economical all series and has already removed Virat Kohli three times.
"(We have) had faith in what we're trying to do and it's good that we are able to show that we can play with three spinners and win," Smith said. "They are all different and all have good knowledge of the game (and a) good understanding of what they are trying to do. It's been great to be able to play spinners and show that we can do it effectively."
Victory in the third Test was only Australia's second in India since 2004 and Smith believes another to level the series would be an ideal finish. "For any touring team to come here and win two Test matches will be a huge achievement," he added. "Unfortunately we weren't able to do it earlier in the series to give ourselves a chance to win."
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