In the end, there was more drama. The whole lead-up to the first Test of 2024 for Australia was not surprisingly all about David Warner. About his legacy, about his passion for playing the sport, about his pioneering role at the top of the order, about how Pat Cummins and the bowlers felt more inspired with him at mid-off and even about his penchant to come up with entertaining stories to life the room whenever the team was a tad down on energy. Then came the news that he'd lost his treasured Baggy Green or had it stolen. It was a pretty heartfelt plea from Warner too on social media and the hope is that it gets returned to him safely before he walks out for his 112th Test, his final appearance in the format.
Australia look to give Warner a perfect send-off
With Australia having wrapped up the series in a tightly-contested match in Melbourne, the Warner farewell narrative will of course dominate proceedings for large parts of the Pink Test. And so it should. But this also kicks off what might not be as hectic a year as the last one for the Australians, but one where they will look to build on this mini-legacy that they've started to build on the back of two world trophies in 2023.
Pat Cummins spoke about not being one that makes New Year resolutions and deals with it more in terms of taking it one week at a time. And while he's hoping for it to be a special week for his retiring opener, he's also keen to build on the momentum that his team is enjoying with a clean-sweep here before it's time for the West Indies later in the month.
While Australia are preparing for a send-off, Pakistan are welcoming what many back home perceive as the coming of a new era with left-hander Saim Ayub being handed his debut. The opener is in the Warner mould, in terms of having made his mark in white-ball cricket alongside an impressive record already in first-class cricket. His inclusion is a sign of Pakistan opting to break away even more under Shan Masood from their more traditional approach to Test cricket.
In a way, it's only apt that Ayub's arrival should clash with Warner's departure, considering it's he who paved the path for the likes of the young Pakistani to do what they do across formats. It's also an opportunity for Pakistan to redeem themselves after a week in Melbourne where they came close on a few occasions to completely upsetting the apple-cart. Not many teams, except India, had pushed the home team even as close as what Pakistan managed at the MCG and it's given the visitors the confidence that they can indeed compete here and possibly even get one over the fancied hosts.
When: Australia v Pakistan, 3rd Test, January 3-7, 2024, 10.30 hrs Local Time, 05:00 hrs IST
Where: SCG, Sydney
What to expect: There have been some interesting surfaces on the re-laid square in use at the SCG this summer during the Sheffield Shield. There was one where Tasmania and New South Wales found it difficult to put any runs on the board while the other one came for a lot of praise from all concerned. The pitch for the Test is yet to be used and carried a green tinge to it on the eve of the match. The fact that we haven't started with talking about the Sydney weather is a positive sign that the forecast has improved slightly but expect rain to play a role over the next five days as is the norm at the SCG.
Selection will be a hot topic in two weeks time when they reconvene to build-up to the first Test against the West Indies. But for now, Australia seem more settled than ever before, ironically with one big name set to be playing his last Test.
Playing XI: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
Shaheen Shah Afridi bowled for quite a while two days out from the Test. And it's quite the story that Pakistan have decided to leave him out for the last Test, just when he seemed to be coming into his own at the MCG. Shan Masood even spelt out how impressed he was with his left-arm ace in his press conference on Tuesday (January 2), but it's a rather weak pace attack that the Aussies will go up against in Sydney. Maybe it's the number of overs he's bowled that's convinced the Pakistani selectors to give him a break.
That opens the door for Sajid Khan, who was a late inclusion to this squad, to play the specialist spinner's role alongside Agha Salman, who's done a reasonable job with the ball. Ayub's selection is of course the more exciting pick.
Playing XI: Saim Ayub, Abdullah Shafique, Shan Masood (c), Babar Azam, Saud Shakeel, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Agha Salman, Hasan Ali, Sajid Khan, Aamer Jamal, Mir Hamza