Anchored by a patient and crafty century by captain Steve Smith, Australia made the most of the best pitch in the series to reach 299/4 at stumps on the first day of the third Test in Ranchi on Thursday. (Day 1 BLOG)
India had the initial edge after taking three wickets in the first session but Australia played with maturity to deny India a wicket in the evening session while adding 105 runs for the unbroken fifth wicket with Glenn Maxwell (82*) after tea. Smith, after scoring his second century of the series, and 19th overall, was unbeaten on 117. (Day 1 scorecard)
THROWING WICKETS AWAY
Openers David Warner and Matt Renshaw got the visitors off to a dream start by racing to fifty within 10 overs but threw away their wickets when it was time to consolidate, after Smith won the toss and elected to bat.
Australia still reached their first hundred before lunch but there was always the lingering danger of getting carried away by a rousing start. Smith however buckled down to produce a innings of vigilance before Maxwell compounded India’s misery with a career-reviving knock.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
Having already scored a match-winning hundred in Pune, Smith knows what it takes to frustrate India. Careful not to get his front foot in line with the stumps, Smith continued to move around and play off his pads as much as possible. Cutting down on lofted shots was also the key to Smith’s long vigil. Less than half his runs came from boundaries as he preferred milking the gaps for singles without taking much risk.
India had their moments though. Bad shot selection was to blame for the dismissals of Warner and Renshaw while Umesh Yadav impressed most among the bowlers. He bowled fast and full and also produced late swing to dismiss Peter Handscomb after Australia put on the second fifty-run partnership of the day. But with the pitch holding firm, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were not getting that consistent grip or turn required to put Australia in a spot of bother.
KOHLI GETS INJURED
More telling was Virat Kohli’s absence. The India captain injured his right shoulder while putting in a dive to save a boundary in the 40th over, and had to leave the ground for the rest of the day. Ajinkya Rahane led in his absence and India broke through with Handscomb’s wicket almost immediately after Kohli left, but it went downhill from there.
By sticking to the basics, Smith helped Australia tick all the boxes required to exploit a good pitch on the first day. But more grief was coming India’s way in the form of Maxwell. Replacing the injured Mitchell Marsh, the aggressive Maxwell took a cue from Smith and gave up the risky shots at first. But with India falling flat in their bowling, Maxwell decided to uncork a few of his special shots, two huge sixes and even a reverse-sweep.
That gave Australia the momentum required to finish on a good note with an unbeaten 159-run partnership, the highest so far in this series. India looked like they were missing a third spinner on a pitch that will continue to aid batsmen. But they will have to wait for their chance to bat.
For the time being, Australia will want to build on their good work for at least one more session. If they are able to do that, India may have a tough job saving this Test.