“David looks really good from what I have seen. He, obviously, has been training this week in the nets and started running between the wickets. I think the early signs with him are very good for the third Test, which is awesome for us,” Paine said.
“Will Pucovski, a similar vein. He is not far away … from my conversations with Will, he is pretty close to a return.”
While the uncapped Pucovski is on the mend, he has not batted in a match since he was hurt in an Australia A game earlier this month.
Burns may have played his last Test after making a panicked four in the second innings in Melbourne, continuing the opener’s wretched summer with the bat.
The Queenslander has only 125 runs at 10.4 in 13 first-class innings. His only knock of substance has been an unbeaten 51 in a successful team run chase in the Adelaide Test.
“Our players know that performance … runs are the currency of value, you have to keep performing to be selected,” coach-selector Justin Langer warned on Tuesday.
Travis Head also finds himself under pressure after middling scores of 38 and 17 in Melbourne, the latter ending when his temperament was challenged outside off stump and he was lured into an unnecessary drive. Head’s inability to step into his drives has been questioned, although former Australian opener Chris Rogers said the issue may be more to do with “shot selection”.
The home team failed to score more than 200 in its first innings in Adelaide and Melbourne, leaving Langer and Paine concerned and former Test skipper Ricky Ponting declaring the batting had been “fragile, frail and tentative”. Seven dropped catches had also been crucial in aiding India’s uprising.
“Dropping a number of catches probably didn’t help – just a bit of a sloppy performance in the field and not enough runs, again,” Paine said.
Smith, having found his “hands” heading into the summer, is now searching for his rhythm after his batting woes continued in Melbourne. He has 12 runs in four innings through the series, although his unbeaten one not out in Adelaide was in a second-innings run chase, but it was his dismissals in Melbourne that rocked the cricketing world.
Spinner Ravi Ashwin, having had Smith caught at slip in Adelaide, maintained the pressure in the first innings in Melbourne when he had Smith snapped up at leg gully for a duck – the first time he had been dismissed without scoring in 51 Test innings.
The tourists have strangled the Australians with their tight stump lines, and that was on show on Monday when Jasprit Bumrah found Smith’s leg stump, the Australian having shuffled too far across to deal with the Indian quick’s nagging line.
Smith has tormented many an attack with his leg-side play but the tourists have discovered a method that has not only captured wickets but restricted the Australians to a sluggish run rate of less than 2.5 per over. The former skipper – named the International Cricket Council’s Test player of the decade – said he needed to adopt a more aggressive mindset, but Paine said India’s plans were nothing new.
“India are bowling well, they are extremely disciplined. We haven’t been able to get partnerships together but, from what I have seen watching say Marnus and Steve Smith, in their Test careers, this is not the first time teams have targeted their stumps. That happens every single Test match,” Paine said.
“These guys (India) are executing it better and someone like Steve just hasn’t been able to get in yet. Once he does, he will find a way, as he always has. The rest of us will follow suit and need to improve.”
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.