Sydney, January 8
Rookie opener Shubman Gill struck a fluent half-century as a resolute India reached 96/2 at stumps after Steve Smith dragged Australia to 338 with a brilliant 131 on the second day of the third Test today.
The star of the day for India was Ravindra Jadeja, who took a four-wicket haul and ran Smith out with a brilliant direct hit to end Australia’s innings.
Gill’s first 50
The young Shubman Gill looked in imperious touch as he recorded his first half-century in Test cricket, ending up with 50 off 101 balls, hitting eight fours. Gill was assured with his cover drives off Nathan Lyon and the fast bowlers, and equally breathtaking with pull shots off Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. Gill would be disappointed at the way he was dismissed for an exact 50, pushing at a widish ball and being caught by a diving Cameron Green at gully. The 21-year-old and Rohit Sharma (26 off 77 balls) added 70 in 27 overs and set the stage for skipper Ajinkya Rahane (5 not out) and Cheteshwar Pujara (9 not out) to try to cash in on the batting-friendly conditions tomorrow.
The Indian bowlers, especially Jadeja (four wickets for 62) and the ever-dependable Jasprit Bumrah (2/66), were brilliant with their length on a flat wicket on which Smith and Marnus Labuschagne (91) raised visions of a 450-plus total when they took the team to 206/2.
But even the 338 they got seemed distant at one stage after Jadeja picked up wickets and Australia lost their No. 8 Pat Cummins to be reduced to 278/7. But a few lusty blows from Mitchell Starc and Smith took the team to 338.
Australia got 172 runs in just under 51 overs in the first two sessions, largely due to positive batting by Smith, Labuschagne and 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. The track didn’t have much for the slow bowlers on the first two days but Jadeja still managed to deny Labuschagne a deserved hundred.
Labuschagne fell when he got an arm ball from Jadeja which bounced a bit more, denying him room for a cut. The result was a smart catch by skipper Ajinkya Rahane, who had positioned himself a bit wide at first slip.
Labuschagne’s 196-ball innings had 11 boundaries and he and Smith, in their bid to neutralise India’s leg-side field, played some eye-catching strokes. Smith completed his half-century in the over after Labuschagne’s dismissal, off Ravichandran Ashwin. Ashwin, with figures of 0/74 in 24 overs, has been below his best so far in this game.
Smith and Labuschagne blended caution with aggression perfectly during the first hour on a track that had no demons. The Indian bowlers continued bowling straight with a heavy leg-side field that they have been employing since the second Test. Australia responded with aggressive intent.
Though Jadeja got wickets, both he and Ashwin erred by bowling on the shorter side, giving Smith ample opportunity to rock back and play through the vacant spaces on the off-side. Despite a tight leg-side field, Smith was able to find gaps on the on side too. Once the tail was in at 278/7 after Cummins’ dismissal, the next 60 runs came in a jiffy in 11 overs, courtesy the aggressive approach of Smith and Starc.
It was only fitting that Jadeja’s brilliance ended Smith’s innings — he sprinted in to the ball from deep square leg, picked it up and threw direct at the stumps, beating a diving Smith.
Despite the cloud cover for the better part of the day, there was no swing on offer and there was no movement off the pitch too.
When India batted, the Australian attack looked insipid and Rohit Sharma, playing his first game in nearly two months, did all the hard work before giving a tame catch back to bowler Josh Hazlewood. — TNS, agencies