Sydney, January 7
In signs ominous for India and encouraging for Australia, the beleaguered Steve Smith looked dangerous and his understudy Marnus Labuschagne was solid as the hosts ended up with 166/2 on the rain-hit opening day of the third Test.
At stumps, Labuschagne was unbeaten on 67 and Smith — after 1, 1*, 0 and 8 in the previous two Tests —had made 31 confident runs, which included five authoritative boundaries. Earlier, Will Pucovski, riding his luck, made 62 on debut to break the shackles for the under-fire home team.
Smith looked positive from the word go and was determined to not let the Indian bowlers dictate terms to him. Smith’s first confident shot came against India’s pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah, who was nicely driven through mid-on for his first boundary of the series.
Debutant pacer Navdeep Saini, after dismissing Pucovski, got carried away and was guilty of bowling too full to Smith, who capitalised with fours. With Smith looking good, skipper Ajinkya Rahane brought his nemesis Ravichandran Ashwin into the attack, and Smith took up the challenge with aggression. The Australian whipped a flighted delivery through mid-wicket and then danced down the track to loft Ashwin on the on-side for another four.
Labuschagne too was in his element after settling down, playing pleasing drives on both sides of the wicket. The two added 60 runs for the third wicket after a 100-run association between Labuschagne and Pucovski, who was trapped in front of the wicket by Saini.
Pucovski had luck on his side as wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant dropped him twice before tea, when he was on 26 and then 32. He could have been run out on 37, too.
Introduced into the attack after 13 overs in India’s first bowling change, Ashwin tempted Pucovski into a drive and the batsman only managed an edge after losing his balance, but Pant failed to hang on to the catch. Shortly after that, Pant dropped Pucovski off Mohammed Siraj, whose fast and short delivery touched the batsman’s glove on its way to the keeper. Pant got his gloves to the ball but could not hang on to it; he caught it on the second attempt, but the ball had touched the ground.
In between three reprieves, Pucovski played some impressive shots and also looked solid in defence after Siraj had sent back David Warner early.
Earlier, play resumed as the sun shone brightly after a four-hour rain interruption. Groundsmen worked relentlessly, using a blower to go with the super-sopper, to get the surface ready for resumption at 3pm local time.
The interruption came after young pacer Siraj dismissed Warner to leave Australia tottering at 21/1 when rain stopped after only 7.1 overs had been bowled. Warner fell for 5 when he flashed at the ball without moving his feet, and was caught by Cheteshwar Pujara at first slip.
At the other end, Pucovski looked mostly solid after Australia won the toss and opted to bat. Rohit Sharma returned to the Indian XI in place of Mayank Agarwal, while Saini was handed his Test debut, replacing the injured Umesh Yadav. — Agencies