A struggling Australia are prepared to risk playing seasoned opener David Warner in the third Test against India even if he is not 100% fit, assistant coach Andrew McDonald said on Thursday (31 December 2020).
The third Test is scheduled to be played in Sydney from January 7-11.
In the absence of Warner, who was recovering from a groin muscle tear, Australia's batting failed miserably in the first two matches.
"That's a real, clear option. He may not be 100 per cent fit -- who is coming off an injury? You never know until you get out there," McDonald said during a virtual press conference.
"Look, if he's 90-95% fit and the conversation is that he's fit enough to be able to go out there and perform his duties for the team, then I'm sure that'll be a conversation the coach has with the player.
"Most times Justin (Langer) is pretty open with the players in terms of giving them accountability around that."
Warner has been named in the squad along with Victorian young gun Will Pucovski for the third Test as Australia look to bounce back from the eight-wicket loss in the Boxing Day Test.
McDonald said Warner is optimistic about making a comeback in Sydney.
"He's (Warner) very optimistic that he should be ready to go, which is a great news for us. We are really excited to have him back.
"I'm sure that he's excited to come back into the group as well. There's nothing worse than being injured when you are at the top of your game as David has been over a period of time."
One of the biggest setbacks for the Aussies so far has been a rare slump in form for batting mainstay Steve Smith, who has so far scored only 10 runs in four innings in the series.
"I wouldn't be too quick to be judging Steve Smith not looking good in the middle. He looks pretty solid and hitting the ball well at the nets," McDonald said.
Asked if life in a bio-bubble was affecting Smith, he said: "No, none whatsoever. Obviously we worked closely at UAE with the Rajasthan Royals and there's nothing to suggest that there's a link there.
"I'm sure ideally you would prefer to be with your family around Christmas time and Justin addressed that. Some players and staff members unfortunately are going to be disconnected from family during Christmas time, less than ideal there's no doubt.
"Yeah, it's a challenge to rebound. The world's best players usually rebound. He's (Smith) in a really good space to be honest, come Sydney Test."
The assistant coach had a similar opinion for Marnus Labuschagne, who missed out on fifties in both Adelaide and Melbourne.
"Technically they're ready to go. It's about how they score their runs and how they're going to combat these attacks from Indian bowlers. Yes, they want to make sure that they are technically in a good space but it's more about the method now."
The Australian batsmen were strangled down the leg-side with brilliant bowling strategy by the Indians.
"Probably the question for me at the moment is the technical or technically the way that India have prepared and able to probably control particularly with that sort of leg side theory, so to speak," he said.
In the second Test, India skipper Ajinkya Rahane introduced his star offspinner Ravichandran Ashwin as early as the 11th over, and he delivered by dismissing Matthew Wade and Smith in his first spell to help his team bowl out Australia for 195 in their first innings.
McDonald said they were surprised to see the bounce and turn on the MCG wicket.
"I think one of the things that really surprised everyone was the surface at the MCG on Boxing Day. It hasn't been what we've normally assumed to be flat strength.
"We weren't expecting the spin to play a significant role at MCG on day one in particular. It spun and bounced off the main part of the surface. So, to me the wicket probably surprised us a little bit.
"We probably weren't able to adapt quick enough during that period of time to combat Indian bowlers," McDonald concluded.
Pucovski has pretty good track record of performing after returning from concussions: McDonald
Puckovski's history of bouncing back strongly from concussion-induced breaks gives McDonald confidence that the young opener will not have trouble in scoring runs if drafted into the playing XI.
Pucovski, who was primed to make debut in Adelaide, was ruled out of the first two Tests after being hit on the head in the first warm-up game. That was the 22-year-old's ninth concussion, not all from cricket.
He has now been included in the squad for the remainder of the series.
"We do know with the history that Will has had, and with my time with him at Victoria. He had a pretty good track record of performing when he has returned," McDonald was quoted as saying by Australian Associated Press (AAP).
In 2018, Pucovski scored his maiden first-class hundred just months after suffering two concussions, with only minor hits in between for a Cricket Australia XI against England.
The right hander also notched up double-centuries in his last two returns from lengthy stints out with concussions.
"I think they (the selectors) will put a bit of trust put into the player around whether he's mentally ready. And clearly it will be up to the coach once he lays eyes on him to see where he's at in terms of being skill ready.
"But history would suggest that he says he's right to perform he's done it a few times and had a good return, so (I'll) suggest they'll put trust into the player," McDonald added.
Pucovski, who joins the Australian squad on Thursday night, will take part in two crucial net sessions at Melbourne before the team moves to Sydney for the third Test, starting on January 7 in Sydney.
Earlier this week, former Australian wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist had said Matthew Wade, who was elevated to the role of opener after the home side was struck by injuries, has made a strong case for himself and the management is likely to go with him at the top alongside David Warner.
However, McDonald opined that Wade's best batting position is in the middle order.
"Is Wade and Warner the best opening combination for us at this point in time? I think a lot of that will depend on how Will Pucovski is," McDonald said.
"I would suggest (Wade)'s best batting position is in the middle … and that's probably where he's best suited."