Sunday, December 28, 2014
Honours shared on opening day
Opening batsman Chris Rogers and Shane Watson raised their half-centuries soon after lunch but were both out within minutes of each other.
Steven Smith’s technique complemented his flair. The Indian pacemen bowled with some fire. And R. Ashwin kept one end up with tight off-spin.
The fare on view at the MCG on Boxing Day was hard and competitive. The surface had some pace and bounce, and the cricket was engaging.
The honours were largely even. Australia might perhaps even hold a slight advantage since India would have to bat last.
The host was 259 for five at stumps on day one of third Test in the Border-Gavaskar series.
Smith was unbeaten with 72; an innings that once again underlined his character. In the cauldron, his focus was unwavering.
India had its moments on a tense day but could have had greater success had its ground fielding on a large arena been better. Fielding lapses ease pressure on the opposition.
For most part, a crowd of 69,993 had its fill. It was not one of those days when runs came at a hectic pace. They had to be earned.
The last hour summed up the day. The Indian pacers had their tails up, with two strikes after tea.
The left-handed Shaun Marsh, looking fluent till that point, nicked a Mohammed Shami delivery that left him from back of a length.
Then debutant Joe Burns under-edged a pull off an Umesh Yadav short ball. He worked up good pace, extracted lift.
Brad Haddin, looking distinctly uncomfortable, was peppered with short-pitched bowling from the pace bowlers. The wicketkeeper-batsman was even struck on the body by one that climbed from Yadav.
The second new ball was taken but Haddin hung on.
The Indian pace attack wore a different look, with Varun Aaron being replaced with Shami. Aaron will fly to India to attend his grandfather’s funeral, and will join the squad in time for the fourth Test.
Shami, bowling a better length and achieving some deviation, operated with some spirit but Smith negotiated him capably.
He briefly left the field owing to a niggle in his thigh but returned to bowl again.
Smith batted with the kind of confidence that has highlighted his batting in this series. The right-hander is such a natural timer of the ball.
He waltzed down to smash Ashwin over long-off for a six on this huge ground. When Ishant Sharma strayed in line, he was whipped past mid-wicket.
This was also an innings where he worked the ball around cleverly. Given his strength off either foot, it is hard to find a chink in Smith’s batsmanship.
The Indians struck early in the morning after Australia opted to bat. It was a big scalp too as David Warner, unable to keep a Yadav lifter down, was well held by Shikhar Dhawan in the slips.
Chris Rogers and Shane Watson then strung together a 115-run second-wicket partnership.
Rogers’s game is marked by an economy of movement; this does not mean his footwork is limited. The left-hander’s back-lift is short but his timing is good. Rogers gets himself into good positions, particularly for strokes between point and covers.
And, like most Australian batsmen, his horizontal bat shots are punishing. When Shami pitched short outside off, the southpaw ruthlessly cut him past the fence.
When the Indians bowled fuller and straighter, they were punch-driven down the ground.
The opener was looking good for more when Shami got one to angle across him; the length invited a drive and Rogers nicked to Dhoni. His place on the line, Watson was positive with his methods. While he looked good in defence, the all-rounder also cut Shami past the fence and pulled Ishant. Watson was fortunate, though, on 37. He edged a length delivery on the off stump from Shami, but a diving Dhawan spilled the offering.
Watson, like Rogers, got his half-century but could not press on. He missed a sweep off Ashwin to be adjudged leg-before. Ashwin held one end up while the luckless Ishant toiled away.
India included debutant K.L. Rahul (for Rohit Sharma) ahead of Suresh Raina.