Australia batsman Cameron Bancroft managed only two in his competitive comeback from his nine-month ban for ball tampering.
Bancroft came to the crease with Perth Scorchers struggling on 16-3 in the fourth over of their Big Bash League match against the Hobart Hurricanes and lasted just three deliveries before edging Riley Meredith behind.
The 26-year-old was suspended for attempting to alter the condition of the ball with sandpaper against South Africa in March.
The ban elapsed on Saturday and Bancroft was given an immediate recall by the Scorchers, who lost by six wickets after being limited to 107-8 from their 20 overs.
Meredith was the outstanding bowler after returning figures of 4-15. The Hurricanes reached their target with 15 balls to spare to win by six wickets to make it four wins from four, Alex Doolan top-scoring with an unbeaten 41.
Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting, who was commentating during the game, said he spoke to Bancroft beforehand and he was “really, really nervous”.
“He was a little bit worried about the pace these boys might be bowling at him as he’s only played club cricket for the past few months,” he said. “He said to me that even going out on this wicket he’s sure everything was going feel like it’s a Test match at the WACA,” said Ponting.
Fast bowler Pat Cummins was the only Australian to cross 50 during the team’s 137-run defeat to India in Melbourne, with the regular batsmen disappointing again.
“I think it’s inexperience, it’s pressure, India’s bowling attack is probably as good as most of us have ever played,” he said.
“I think it’s pretty clear that if you take two or three of the best players out of anyone’s line-up around the world, you’re going to struggle a little bit at times and you are going to have inconsistent performances.
“The silver lining is that we do have world-class players that are available soon to come back into this side, and clearly when they do they will make a huge difference.”
Smith and Warner are serving one-year suspensions for ball-tampering, and will return in late March.
Batting coach Graeme Hick said Australia should learn from India skipper Virat Kohli and first-innings centurion Cheteshwar Pujara, with Kohli’s unusually restrained 82 and Pujara’s typically battling 106 providing the backbone for India’s first-innings total of 443/7 .
Australia could only manage 151 in reply, with a slight improvement taking them to 261 in their second innings but still fell to a huge 137-run defeat.
“We spoke about how Kohli went about it (his 82). We knew Pujara, and even Kohli, one of the most explosive batters, got to 20 off 25, 26 balls, then the rest of his innings took whatever it was,” he said.
“For the best player in the world to change his innings and play like that, if you can’t be on the same field as him and watch him and learn from what he is doing, then you are in the wrong space.
“There are certainly things our players can take out of that. It takes a lot of discipline, a lot of patience and, on top of that, you have got to bat with intent.”
Aaron Finch’s struggles as a Test opener continued, while all-rounder Mitchell Marsh managed just 19 runs across both innings. Speculation is rife that one or both will be dropped for this week’s Test in Sydney, though Paine was non-committal over any changes to the playing XI.
“I think they’ll be a lot of things on the table in the next day or two and of course I have some thoughts on what I think but I will share them with JL (coach Justin Langer) before I share them here,” he said.
“But I think we have the best group of players available to us at the moment and we’ll pick the best combination of that group that we think will win this last Test.”
All-rounder Marnus Labuschagne has been added to the squad as a potential replacement for Marsh.
The year began on a poor note in South Africa. And it is ending on an equally terrible one in Australia.
The ball-tampering scandal during Australia’s tour of South in March-April was replete with disgraceful spats between teams which culminated in a near brawl between David Warner and Quinton De Kock outside the dressing rooms during the Durban Test.
Then, it went pear shaped in the Cape Town Test when Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera trying to change the condition of the ball using what was later revealed to be sandpaper. Team leaders Steve Smith and David Warner were banned for a year and Bancroft for nine months.
The ripples of that controversy are still being felt with Bancroft naming Warner as the mastermind of the ball-tampering plot this week, reigniting a fire that was long doused.
The Australian team, battling a crisis of credibility, promised ‘elite honesty’ as they prepared for a home Test series against India. The banter between rival players has been heated during the Border Gavaskar Trophy but it hasn’t been alarming.
What has grabbed attention is the noise outside the field. In the Melbourne Test, fans were ejected from the Melbourne Cricket Ground after multiple warnings following racist chants of ‘show us your visa’ directed at Indian players.
The atmosphere in the Australian commentary box at the MCG was unhealthy as well, although not as toxic. Former cricketer turned commentator Kerry O’Keeffe is a bit of a rabble-rouser, making a name for himself for edgy remarks and innuendo filled statements.
In the third Test, he first ruffled many feathers by mocking India’s first-class cricket, belittling debutant Mayank Agarwal’s runs as having being scored against a ‘Canteen XI’ consisting of chefs and kitchen help”.
Kerry O'Keefe can go blue in the face saying it was 'tongue in cheek' [which is standard procedure for when you've been caught saying something you shouldn't have been] - but all it will take is one listen of the conversation to know that this crossed the fabled line. https://t.co/GrH64qu5im— Saurabh Somani (@saurabh_42) December 26, 2018
O’Keeffe issued a non-apology, saying: “It was tongue in cheek. There are lots of runs scored so apologies if anyone out there took offence.” So basically – ‘just move on’.
A couple of days later, the antagonising O’Keeffe was at it again, mocking the names of Indian players like Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja after being goaded by the legendary Shane Warne.
“Who names their kids Cheteshwar and Jadeja?” quipped O’Keeffe. Who indeed…
Anyone who cares to listen to the audio of those barbs in the veil of commentary will recognise the tone of contempt and casual racism. The utter disregard of an opponent’s system and people can’t be missed even if you tried.
And that is as big a tragedy as the ball-tampering scandal. In South Africa, the Australian team did what every other team does – work the ball to gain reverse swing. The host broadcaster followed players closely throughout that fateful day in Cape Town before catching Bancroft with his pants down, literally.
However, players understand it is an accepted practice aimed at giving beleaguered bowlers a fighting chance on flat pitches. Just avoid getting caught, if you can.
But what we have seen in Melbourne is abhorrent. Cricket commentators mocking players, their achievements, their system, their names… I guess all that remains is outright abuse.
While the Indian management has expressed its hurt at the caustic Australian commentary, the Australian commentators haven’t even received a rap on the knuckles from the broadcasters.
Hardly anything is being said from the Australian side about the casual racism in the name of cricket commentary being pedaled Down Under. What a shameful way to end 2018.