Australia defy injuries at the MCG to go on to win the Test series against South Africa

At the start of the third day of the Melbourne Test, despite their advantage in the tables, you wondered whether an Australian team that looked more like a medical ward could perform adequately in the match. Instead, when they finally declared two sessions later, two batters with broken arms were the ones landing strikes in the middle. Moving to 575 for eight, Cameron Green ignored his broken finger to face 171 balls for an unbeaten 51, while the blow to Mitchell Starc’s finger as he walked into the field didn’t stop him taking a six off 10 not out . Alex Carey helped build a 386-run lead with his maiden Test century and South African captain Dean Elgar was caught for a duck before rain ended play at 15 for one.

The day started in a flurry for the visitors, already 197 runs behind, but soon with hopes of limiting the damage after Anrich Nortje’s opening blast. First he bowled Travis Head on 51, driving the ball off the seam to hit Head’s back and bounce onto his stumps. David Warner returned, refreshed by a night’s rest after being retired with severe cramps when he reached 200 the night before. He departed just as quickly, a North Indian yorker swinging to his ankle and back onto the stumps.

Patrick Cummins survived the hat-trick but was ruled out early on to catch Rabad out thanks to the umpire’s marginal review decision. South Africa would have thought the end was in sight, with 400-6 actually meaning 400-8 given the injuries. But after Nathan Lyon hit a quick 25 before being caught at midwicket, Green followed him into the middle. South Africa again turned to Nortje, the man who had broken Green’s finger the day before, hoping he could cause discomfort by rolling on the gloves. But Green’s defense showed no cracks, including those short serves he played straight into the ground with high cards.

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

Green checks Starc's head after being hit by the ball.
Green checks Starc’s head after being hit by the ball. Photo: Joel Carrett/AAP

For Carey, that meant taking the bowling judiciously. Short balls with width were his favourites, as he used pace to collect pull shots and bounce the uppers to the fence. At times he would pick up long balls, swing back and launch them down the ground or through covers. The rest of the time he was quite happy to milk the ones and twos off straight balls or spin, even as he neared his century. He became the first Australian wicket-keeper to score one since Brad Haddin in the 2013 Adelaide Ashes Test, which includes Peter Neville, Matthew Wade and Tim Paine.

Green eventually introduced some expansive strokes into his day, bringing up his sixth Test 50 with a dramatic overhander played over one leg. Rabada was jumping with his heart and was unlucky, taking a few shots without one going to his hand. Carey fell to 111 in a curious fashion, shaping to pull and then trying to leave Marc Jansen’s bouncer after a springboard hit, but left the bat periscope-style and accidentally threw the ball back to the bowler.

Cummins finally called on his players after the Starcs pinned the helmet to be the next Jansen bouncer, prompting a concussion check. The argument for keeping injured players in the line of fire was fading. Scott Boland, the night watchman in the frenetic Brisbane Test, was the only player not to bat. And despite everything we learned about Starc being unfit to bowl, he opened the innings regardless wearing cricket trousers that were soon covered in blood as they held back his broken nail, which could no longer be patched.

Cummins took the wicket in the second over, with the umpires calling a low catch to confirm that he had taken Elgar’s glove. It was the second time in four innings in this series that the touring skipper was caught on the leg side along with a run out and the umpire lbw. With his team trailing by 371 with two days to play, a half-hour early start will follow to make up for lost time in the coming days. Things didn’t go well for South Africa, and even when faced with problems, the Australians found ways to get out of it.

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