Two quick Tasmanian wickets softened the blow for Test fast bowler Mitchell Starc who was left stranded not out on 86 by a declaration from NSW captain Peter Nevill which could yet prove a masterstroke.
Nevill called Starc and Sean Abbott in one ball after Abbott reached his maiden first class hundred, setting Tasmania 348 to win.
After walking from the field Starc hurled his gloves and bat in to the marquee set up as changerooms at Park 25 in Adelaide.
Perhaps he was still smarting from an earlier blow on his bowling hand, or he wanted a hundred which has proved elusive. Starc’s highest Test score is 99.
“I might have to go and give him a hug later tonight and get him some dinner,” Abbott said after play.
Batsmen have dominated the four rounds of the Sheffield Shield and to get players out on Adelaide’s hard and true pitches, you need to think outside the square.
In Test captain Tim Paine’s case, it was outside the square from off the wicket square.
As NSW built its lead over Tasmania in Adelaide on Tuesday, Paine threw down the stumps from extreme range while Nick Larkin was preoccupied pondering how — when on 162 — he could possibly play and miss at paceman Gabe Bell.
As the ball flew past Larkin’s edge, Bell’s hands went to his head in frustration then shot up in celebration as he realised Paine’s underarm had caught Larkin short. Out stumped Paine, bowled Bell.
Bowlers will take them any way they can in a Shield season dominated by the bat.
The Paine stumping was a bizarrely fitting incident in a topsy turvy match, in which the Blues are somehow in a strong position after being bowled out for 64 in their first innings.
Paine’s genius seized the initiative for Tasmania – only for the Blues to snatch it back with a 189 sixth wicket stand by Abbott and Starc.
Abbott plundered an unbeaten 102 — his maiden first-class hundred — and Starc stroked 86 not out as the match took another curious twist.
Abbott thumped six sixes and four fours as the Blues piled on 6-522 — 458 more than they made in the first innings.
It shapes as an excellent declaration as Trent Copeland struck twice to have Tasmania 2-26 at stumps.
Nathan Lyon looms large on day four in what should be a solid workout for Australia’s premier spinner a month before the first Test.
Tasmania paid a heavy price for dropping Larkin when he was 11 on Monday.
Larkin and Moises Henriques (113 from 216 balls with 12 fours) added 253 for the third wicket to raise NSW’s hopes.
But the Blues lost 3-3 — Daniel Solway for 14, Peter Nevill for one and Larkin — before Sean Abbott and Mitchell Starc pushed the lead past 200.
Beau Webster did a Colin Miller to switch from seam to spin mid-spell, only for Abbott to advance and hit him out of the ground.
Early in his innings Starc was hit on the left hand by a Riley Meredith bouncer but it didn’t hamper his batting as the partnership gave the Blues the upper hand.
BURNS’ SELFLESS ACT COULD COST TEST SPOT
Test opener Joe Burns might have sacrificed his place in the national team for the good of Queensland.
Chasing quick runs ahead of a day three declaration against South Australia at Glenelg on Tuesday, Burns reached high to swat at a Chadd Sayers bouncer.
His fine edge presented keeper Harry Nielsen with a regulation catch and Burns was gone for 11.
Given his precarious place in the Test side, Burns could have been forgiven for playing for his average, but he did the team thing instead.
Burns’s 11 followed scores of 10, 0, 29 and seven, leaving him vulnerable to the seemingly irresistible challenge mounted by Victorian Will Pucovski.
After blazing an unbeaten 255 against SA last weekend, Pucosvkis backed it up over with 202 against WA to become the first Victorian since Bill Ponsford 93 years ago to score consecutive double hundreds.
Burns has run out of chances to climb out of his slump before the a likely 17-man Test squad is chosen for the first Test in Adelaide on December 17.
It would be a big diversion for national selectors to leave him out of the enlarged group, and he could turn out in one or both of two tour matches to be played against India before the Test series as a last chance selection saloon
But plenty have dubbed it a certainty that Pucosvki will replace Burns, who played the full Test summer last season but averaged only 32 to fail to cement his place in the XI.
He was overlooked for the 2019 Ashes despite making 180 against Sri Lanka in the final Test of the previous Australian season.
Marnus Labuschagne has also struggled this past week, making a duck in the second innings against NSW, a duck in the first innings on Sunday, and only 14 on Tuesday.
But those three failures followed 167 against Tasmania and 117 in the first innings of the NSW match.
And, like Burns, he was dismissed chasing quick declaration runs, falling lbw trying to sweep Will Bosisto.
Australian coach Justin Langer has said recently he’s not inclined to change a team that is ranked number one on the world.
But Burns’s form has to be concerning.
“We‘re ranked number one at the moment and there’s reasons for that,” Langer said recently.
“If someone‘s banging so hard on the door (in the Sheffield Shield) that we can’t ignore them, that’s what we’re looking for.
“In our mind it‘s pretty clear at the moment what that first Test squad would be, but it’s exciting to see if anyone else is going to put their hand up.”
Fellow Test batsman Travis Head was unable to engineer another match-saving rearguard for the hapless Redbacks.
Head made a duck when he edged a seaming Michael Neser delivery to keeper Jimmy Peirson.
That all but ended the Redbacks hopes. Still, at stumps on Tuesday they were hanging in there on 4-138, needing a notional 310 to win.