Steven Smith’s resolve helped Australia recover from a middling first session as they went to tea on the first day of the third of four Tests against India with the scoreboard reading a healthy 194 for 4 on Thursday (March 16).
In the second session, Umesh Yadav sent back Peter Handscomb to give India something to cheer about after Virat Kohli left the field with a shoulder injury. But Smith’s unbeaten 80 was backed up well by the tentative Glenn Maxwell, who went into a break at 19 from 50 balls.
Along the way, Smith, who scored a game-changing century in the first Test in Pune, became the seventh fastest to 5000 runs in Test cricket.
The 27 year old came into the game with 4924 runs from 52 Tests at 59.32, and that experience came to Australia’s rescue early on in the day.
After Australia won the toss and opted to bat, the moist pitch at JSCA International Stadium played true on its reputation on Test debut with healthy bounce and carry. While David Warner hesitated in his footwork despite the ball coming on to the bat better than it has all series long, Matt Renshaw made the most of the consistent bounce and the lighting quick outfield by scoring all his first 24 runs in boundaries, mostly on the leg side as Ishant Sharma and Yadav were guilty of drifting into the pads too often.
But before the opening pair could assert itself too much, Kohli brought on R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to take care of the situation. Warner and Renshaw had taken the total to 50 when Warner premeditated a sweep off Jadeja before adjusting and going for the heave over the bowler’s head off the generous full toss. The ball came on quicker than anticipated and Warner hit it straight to Jadeja, who held on to a good catch.
Australia’s recovery needed Renshaw and Smith to keep India’s spinners at bay, and they did with some success. But Renshaw, who neared his third half-century in the series, let his guard down in the 23rd over and edged a back-of-length delivery from Umesh to Kohli at first slip.
Umesh had induced an edge from Renshaw the previous ball, which had landed short of Ajinkya Rahane at second slip, but this one went low to Kohli, and he made no mistake.
Smith, visibly irritated with both openers back in the hut, attempted to salvage the session with Shaun Marsh, but that alliance lasted less than three overs. Marsh inside edged one on to his pads off a looping delivery from Ashwin to be caught by Cheteshwar Pujara at short leg. India, who have been reserved in their DRS calls this Test, went upstairs when the on-field umpire turned down the appeal and came away with a useful scalp minutes before the break.
With that wicket Ashwin took his season tally to 77 wickets, only one behind Dale Steyn’s record of 78 set in 2007-08.
After the break, Smith and Handscomb went on to show just how even the strip was by playing through the line and adding runs at a good clip. In fact, if it hadn’t been for a brute of an inswinging yorker from Umesh, Handscomb should have stuck around and added more to the 51-run fourth wicket stand.
Kohli, however, had to celebrate the wicket from the dressing room. The Indian skipper did his shoulder in in the 40th over when he dived to pull back an on-drive from Handscomb at the long-on boundary. He came off the field clutching his right shoulder and missed most of the second session, and was being treated with ice packs.
After that, Smith and Maxwell took over proceedings with their calculated play.
Earlier, India brought back M Vijay for his 50th Test in place of Abhinav Mukund. Australia, without the injured Mitchell Marsh and Mitchell Start, named Maxwell and Pat Cummins in their playing XI.