Wade has kept wickets for Australia, made middle and low order hundreds, taken good catches in the field, even bowled a handful of overs. Now he was to open, for the first time in first-class cricket. The erstwhile troublemaker had been recast as a trouble shooter.
Burns is a career opener, though latterly you would not have guessed it. While others amassed scores all around him in the Sheffield Shield and a lead-up game in Sydney, his story was one of ever diminishing returns. By Test match week, all he had to recommend him was the fact that he had made Test hundreds. He had the muscle memory, but otherwise amnesia.
Others were available, batsmen from down the list, an opener from outside, but the selectors and coach Justin Langer rolled this dice. Courageous, minister, very courageous.
Did it work? In bald terms, it did not. Neither man reached double figures. Australia had won the first skirmish of the day, taking just 25 balls to polish off India’s last four wickets. From the run out of Virat Kohli the previous evening, India had lost 7/53 to be 244 all out. It was advantage Australia.
Then the match fell into a trance. Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah, opening India’s bowling, under-pitched. Only one ball in the first nine overs would have hit stumps. Making like openers, the makeshifts let them pass. The scoreboard sat still.
Wade, who treats cricket like a martial art, let the ball hit him rather than play a false shot. Burns prompted a mini-cheer when he left his first ball, another when he hit one. These are cricket’s bi-plays, and he might have allowed himself a thin smile. At least he was still in.
Wade, three weeks ago a supercharged T20 opener for Australia, faced 50 balls and scored from five. Australia’s run rate was one, but the wickets column was empty. As always in such stalemates, the question hovered: who was breaking whom? The answer came soon enough.
Mohammed Shami relieved Bumrah and reshaped the game by pitching up. Bumrah changed ends and in consecutive overs had Wade and Burns lbw. Wade was caught on the crease by the first ball he faced that would have hit the stumps, Burns missed when flicking to leg, an old failing. Moreover, each burned a review as he went.
The best that can be said was that by surviving until the 15th over, Wade and Burns had worn the first layer of lacquer off the ball. Once, that would have been enough for an opener. It was the premium on the position.In the first day-night match here four years ago, debut opener Matt Renshaw made 10 and won rave reviews. But the circumstances were vastly different.
What to do now? Press pause until after the second innings, yes, but then dig out Plan B. Wade has credits, but Burns’s position has become untenable. An hour for eight was worse for him than a first-ball duck. For the duck, there is an alibi, for the tortuous single-figure score there is not.
If David Warner is not available for the Boxing Day Test, Marcus North or another must get a chance. Burns is out of his.
It will improved the humour of neither to have watched from the sheds as Labuschagne was dropped at slip, fine leg and square leg in getting to 22 and Steve Smith came perilously close to being caught in slips and then run out when on one. He never got to two. A Ravichandran Ashwin delivery skidded on and deceived him, another held up in the pitch for Head to drive a return catch. Green was in control until his pull shot was athletically caught at mid-wicket by Kohli.
From the socially distanced crowd barely a sigh could be heard, and it was not because of an injunction against excessive exhalation.
Greg Baum is chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age.