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Australia defy injuries at MCG to close in on Test series win against South Africa

Early on the third day of the Melbourne Test, despite their scorecard advantage, you wondered whether an Australian team that more resembled a medical ward could adequately function in the match. Instead, when they finally declared two sessions later, two batters with busted hands were the ones in the middle landing the punches. Moving to 575 for eight, Cameron Green ignored his fractured finger to face 171 balls for an unbeaten 51, while the blow Mitchell Starc’s finger took while fielding didn’t stop him carting a six in his 10 not out. Alex Carey had notched his first Test century to help build the lead to 386 runs, and South African captain Dean Elgar was caught behind for a duck before rain ended play at 15 for one.

The day had started in a rush for the visitors, already 197 runs behind but soon with hopes of limiting the damage after Anrich Nortje’s opening burst. First he smashed through Travis Head on 51, jagging the ball off the seam to hit Head’s back pad and deflect onto his stumps. David Warner returned, restored by a night’s rest after retiring with severe cramps on reaching 200 the evening before. He departed just as quickly, a Nortje yorker swinging into his ankle and again onto the stumps.

Patrick Cummins survived the hat-trick ball, but was soon ruled caught behind off Rabada thanks to a marginal umpire review decision. South Africa would have thought that the end was in sight, with 400-6 effectively meaning 400-8 given the injuries. But after Nathan Lyon clubbed a fast 25 before being caught at midwicket, Green followed him to the middle. Again South Africa turned to Nortje, the man who broke Green’s finger the day before, hoping he could cause discomfort by bowling at the gloves. But Green’s defence showed no cracks, including those short deliveries that he played right down into the ground with high hands.

Green scored in slow motion, with the need to protect his injury perhaps in influence in making him revert to the defensive method of his first season of Test cricket. But Carey was already on 31 when the partnership began and kept up the scoring for both of them. Runs were less the issue than time, given that the Australians had to prepare to bowl out a team while having three fit specialist bowlers rather than five. Keeping South Africa in the field for as long as possible was the aim. It gave each player freedom to proceed the way they preferred.

Green checks out Starc’s head after he was hit with the ball.
Green checks out Starc’s head after he was hit with the ball. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

For Carey, that meant taking on the bowling judiciously. Short balls with width were his favourites, as he used the pace to pick up pull shots and deflect uppercuts to the fence. Occasionally he took on length balls, rocking back and powering them down the ground or through the covers. The rest of the time he was quite happy to milk ones and twos from straight balls or from spin, even as he neared his century. He became the first Australian wicketkeeper to score one since Brad Haddin in the Adelaide Ashes Test of 2013, a span that covers Peter Nevill, Matthew Wade and Tim Paine.

Side-on footage showed the camera hitting Anrich Nortje to his upper body from behind at some pace.

Green eventually introduced a few expansive shots into his day, raising his sixth Test 50 with a dramatic uppercut played on one leg. Rabada bowled with heart and was unlucky, drawing his edge several times without one going to hand. Carey fell in strange fashion for 111, shaping to pull and then trying to leave a Marco Jansen bouncer after it trampolined at him, but leaving the bat up periscope style and accidentally dobbing the ball back to the bowler.

Cummins finally called his players in after Starc’s helmet was clipped be another Jansen bouncer, prompting a concussion check. The argument for leaving injured players in the line of fire was fading. Scott Boland, nightwatchman in the frenetic Brisbane Test, was the only player not to bat. And for all that we had been told about Starc being unfit to bowl, he opened the innings regardless, in a pair of cricket trousers that were soon dotted with blood from staunching his smashed fingernail that could no longer be taped up.

Cummins took the wicket in the second over, with the umpires referring a low catch and thus confirming that it had taken Elgar’s glove. It was the second time in four innings this series that the touring captain has been caught down the leg side, along with a run out and an umpire’s call lbw. With his team behind by 371 with two days to play, there will be an early start by half an hour for lost time on the subsequent days. Little has gone right for South Africa, and even when the Australians have faced trouble, they have found ways to come out of it on top.

Source : TheGuardian