Rain on Wednesday stopped Australia’s hunt for a big innings victory over South Africa in the Boxing Day Test — but the hosts still have plenty to celebrate at stumps.
Alex Carey is the team’s latest member to make a Test century, after his 111 helped set-up an Australian declaration at 8-575 — a first innings lead of 386.
Despite a broken finger, Cameron Green also starred in an unbeaten knock of 51 runs that took him into some elite company.
However, Pat Cummins still faced questions over his tactics in the second session as his two injured stars faced a brutal barrage of bouncers under gloomy skies.
These are the Talking Points after day three of the Boxing Day Test.
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‘SENSATIONAL’ AUSSIE GLOVEMAN’S CAREER-DEFINING KNOCK
When Alex Carey brought up his maiden Test century on day three of the Boxing Day Test, teammate Cameron Green seemed more excited about the feat than his batting partner.
Green threw his arms in the air when Carey slapped a cut shot through the covers to reach triple figures, embracing the gloveman after he took off his helmet and acknowledged the crowd.
The 31-year-old is the seventh Australian wicketkeeper to score a Test century, becoming the first to achieve the feat in a Boxing Day Test at the MCG.
It was his most fluent innings in the Test arena, a career-defining performance that puts him in esteemed company.
Former England bowler Isa Guha called it “one of the finest innings in a Boxing Day Test match” on Fox Cricket.
Despite wickets tumbling around him on Wednesday morning, Carey continued on his merry way, unfazed by the carnage at the other end.
Despite losing Travis Head, David Warner and Pat Cummins in quick succession, Carey didn’t alter his aggressive mentality, unafraid to play his shots.
The left-hander played with complete freedom in the middle, attacking anything wide of the stumps and driving confidently down the ground when the Proteas seamers overpitched. His reverse sweeps were also impeccable, a valuable tool in India.
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Carey brought up his fourth Test fifty with a trio of boundaries against Lungi Ngidi, reaching the minor milestone in just 66 deliveries.
The 31-year-old only left five balls alone before reaching fifty, defending or attacking everything else that came his way. The knock quickly drew comparisons to the legendary Adam Gilchrist, the greatest wicketkeeper-batter in history.
“He’s a natural strokemaker,” Gilchrist said on Fox Cricket.
“He’s positive in intent, he’s just a busy player in every facet of the game.”
South African legend Shaun Pollock continued: “He’s nice on the eye too, pretty elegant.
“His timing has been sensational as well. Since he’s walked to the crease, he’s really looked the part.”
Carey eventually departed for 111, misjudging a short delivery from Marco Jansen and top-edging a simple return catch for the South African.
He walked off the MCG to a standing ovation.
Since this year’s Karachi Test against Pakistan, Carey has averaged 71.83 with the bat in Australian whites. Nobody in the Test side boasts a higher average during that eight-match stretch.
While some of his teammates have scored multiple Test centuries this year, Carey’s consistency with the bat has gone somewhat unnoticed.
The South Australian’s recent form means that Australia could be tempted to slide him up to No. 6 in the batting order for next week’s SCG Test, allowing for a fifth bowling option.
His wicketkeeping has also improved drastically since last summer’s Ashes series, where he put down a few regulation chances.
‘SPEECHLESS’: GREEN BETTERED ONLY BY BEEFY
It’s baffling that some pundits were questioning Cameron Green’s place in the Test side a couple of weeks ago.
After taking a maiden Test five-wicket haul in the first innings of the Boxing Day Test against South Africa, Green backed it up with a patient 51 not out on day three at the MCG.
The 23-year-old’s index finger of his right hand was fractured after copping a nasty blow facing Proteas seamer Anrich Nortje the previous evening, but Green played through the pain, combining with Carey for a 117-run partnership and ensuring his teammate reached a maiden Test century.
Green survived 177 deliveries at the crease, making it the longest innings of his Test career to date.
The West Australian’s Test batting average (35.04) now sits comfortably above his Test bowling average (29.78), commonly used as an indicator for a genuine all-rounder.
At the same point in their Test careers, Steve Waugh averaged 29.29 with the bat and Mitchell Starc averaged 31.43 with the ball. After 18 Tests, he’s bettering two modern greats in their respective disciplines.
As revealed by CricViz’s Ben Jones, the only Test cricketer with more runs at a better average and more wickets at a better average before their 24th birthday is England legend Ian Botham. Not terrible company either.
When shown the statistic on Fox Cricket, Michael Hussey noted that Ian Smith had been left “speechless”.
Considering how difficult replacing Green will be for next week’s SCG fixture, it’s hard to argue he’s not in Australia’s best Test XI anymore.
‘DON’T SEE THE LOGIC’: CUMMINS RAISES EYEBROWS
Pat Cummins has raised eyebrows with late declarations in the past, but Wednesday’s delayed call certainly had people talking.
As Australia’s first innings lead passed 350, spectators at the MCG started to get impatient. When footage of a young fan holding up a sign that read “Declare Please” was displayed on the venue’s big screen, loud cheers of approval echoed around the venue.
The Fox Cricket commentators were baffled when Starc walked out to bat with Green in the afternoon session. Both players were nursing finger injuries that had ruled them out of the third Test in Sydney, and there was seemingly little value in making them face South Africa’s world-class pace attack in gloomy conditions.
Nortje relentlessly peppered the duo with short bowling, and Starc was noticeably uncomfortable in the middle.
“There’s two men with 18 good fingers between them,” former Australian spinner Kerry O’Keefe said on Fox Cricket.
“This is an odd period of play here. Lots of short stuff bowling, no attempt to score. Two inconvenient batters. Umpires looking at the light.
“Something’s got to crack.”
Soon after, Starc was struck flush on the helmet by Jansen, prompting team medics to rush onto the ground and conduct a concussion test. Starc kept glancing towards the team dugout, presumably expecting to see his skipper waving them in.
“I’m sorry guys, but I don’t see the logic in this, I really don’t,” former New Zealand wicketkeeper Smith sighed.
“Not often you will see a batter mouth or gesture to a captain in the dressing room, ‘we should be bowling skipper’.”
Thankfully, Cummins signalled for a declaration moments before the tea break with Australia leading by 386 runs.
Earlier, former Test batter Mark Waugh questioned whether Green should be batting at all considering his injury setback.
“If you happen to get another blow on that finger, that could cause real damage,” Waugh said.
“I’m surprised he’s come out, I’ve got to say. At 258 runs in front, if he’s just going to defend like this, what’s the point? He can only get hit again.”
AUSSIE SKIPPER’S LONE FLAW
What has happened to Cummins’ batting?
The paceman was on the verge of being considered a genuine all-rounder four summers ago after topscoring for Australia in the 2018 Boxing Day Test against India.
Cummins smacked 63 in the second innings, the only Australian to reach fifty in the match, pushing his Test batting average above 20.
He was a reliable No.8, passing 25 on ten occasions between August 2017 and January 2019, but his consistency with the bat has noticeably dipped since then.
Cummins has averaged 12.27 in his last 28 Test matches, reaching 30 just once in 34 innings during that period.
The 29-year-old’s defence has become vulnerable against pace bowling – South African quick Kagiso Rabada has dismissed the Australian captain five times in six Tests.
On Wednesday morning, Cummins survived three deliveries before Rabada removed him for 4 with a length delivery that marginally nipped away from the right-hander.
South African captain Dean Elgar called for a review after umpire Paul Reiffel shook his head, with Snicko replays showing a faint murmur as the Kookaburra passed Cummins’ bat. It was enough evidence for third umpire Chris Gaffaney to overturn the decision.
Cummins’ most recent scores in Tests are 5, 0 and 4 – he has averaged 10.88 with the bat in Australia over the last four home summers.
Meanwhile, Australian teammate Starc, who once batted below Cummins at No. 9, has averaged 25.65 in Tests since the start of 2019.
It isn’t the New South Welshman’s job to score runs, and needless to say, he’s been a marvel with the ball in Australian whites, but lower-order cameos can be game-changing in Test cricket.