India finally had a good session after a rather uneventful first day in which the home team had the upper-hand.
Steve Smith roared back to form with a gutsy hundred to take Australia to a decent 338 but Indian all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja shared the spotlight with him by claiming four wickets during the first two sessions of the third Test’s second day here on Friday.
At tea, India held the slight upper-hand after reaching 26 for no loss with Shubman Gill (14 batting) and Rohit Sharma (11 batting) at the crease, having safely negotiated nine overs.
While Smith’s 27th hundred (131 off 226 balls) and his 100-run stand with Marnus Labuschagne (91 off 196 balls), laid the foundation of a decent first innings total for the hosts, the Indian bowlers should be lauded for a grand comeback on a flat deck.
There was a point when Australia were cruising along at 206 for 2 but Jadeja (18-3-62-4) and the ever-dependable Jasprit Bumrah (25.4-7-66-2) put India back in the game with their controlled bowling on an unresponsive track.
In fact, Jadeja literally got a “five-for” as his brilliant direct throw from the deep ended Smith’s knock just when he had decided to throw the kitchen sink at the bowlers.
The first two sessions can be ideally described as fascinating with Australia getting 172 runs in just under 51 overs, largely due to some positive batting by Smith, Labuschagne and down the order Mitchell Starc (24 off 30 balls).
But Jadeja and Bumrah, especially with the second new ball, were on target even as debutant Navdeep Saini (2/65) leaked a few runs due to sheer inexperience.
Track didn’t help spinners
The Sydney track didn’t have much help for the slow bowlers in the first two days but that didn’t deter Jadeja from denying Labuschagne a deserving hundred.
In a stop-start first session, Labuschagne, who was looking good on 91, got an arm ball from Jadeja, which bounced a bit more denying him room for a non-existent cut shot.
The result was a smart catch by skipper Ajinkya Rahane, who positioned himself a bit wide at the first slip.
Labuschagne’s 196-ball innings had 11 boundaries and no one deserved a three-figure score more than him.
Labuschagne and Smith, in their bid to neutralise India’s leg-side field, played some eye-catching strokes.
Smith completed his half-century in the very next over after Labuschagne’s dismissal, off Ravichandran Ashwin (0/74 in 24 overs), who has been well below his best during the five sessions that India had been on field.
The two batsmen had little trouble as they blended caution with aggression perfectly during the first hour on a track that’s offering slow turn with no visible demons in it.
The Indian bowlers continued bowling in straight lines with a heavy leg-side field that they have been employing since the second Test match.
What changed for Australia was the understanding of the opposition strategy better as they showed aggressive intent.
While Jadeja got a couple of wickets, both Ashwin and him erred on the shorter side of the length giving Smith ample opportunity to rock back and play through the vacant spaces in the off-side area.
While the pronounced shuffle was still there, he did cover his leg-stump while going across and was hardly troubled by the Indian bowlers.
Despite a tight leg-side field, he was able to find on-side gaps and once it was 278 for 7 after Pat Cummins’ dismissal, the next 60 runs came in a jiffy in 11 overs, courtesy Smith’s aggressive approach.
Brief Scores: Australia 1st innings: 338 all out in 105.4 overs (Will Pucovski 62, Marnus Labuschagne 91, Steve Smith 131, Ravindra Jadeja 4/62, Jasprit Bumrah 2/66).
India 1st Innings: Rohit Sharma batting 11 Shubman Gill batting 14 Extras (nb-1) 1 Total (for no loss in 9 Overs) 26 Bowling: Mitchell Starc 3-1-15-0, Josh Hazlewood 4-2-11-0, Pat Cummins 2-2-0-0