Ton-up Smith, Maxwell help Australia finish strong on Day 1

Steve Smith (117*) and Glenn Maxwell (82*) combined to lift the Aussies from a troubling 140 for four to a more secure 299 without the loss of another wicket on the opening day of the third Test.

For the bowlers, Steven Smith is a moving target. He walks around the crease, looks vulnerable on occasions, but invariably gets the job done.

It was business as usual for captain Smith at the JSCA Stadium here on Thursday. His unbeaten 117 was an innings of substance and character on a sluggish wicket and a fast outfield.

Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

The explosive Glenn Maxwell often implodes. But then this talented cricketer, grabbing a lifeline handed to him in Tests, responded with a mature and superbly paced unbeaten 82.

It takes two to tango and Smith and Maxwell combined to lift the Aussies from a troubling 140 for four to a more secure 299 without the loss of another wicket on the opening day of the third Test.

 

There wasn’t much spin on the first day pitch – the little turn that the bowlers managed to extract was slow – but the odd ball definitely kept low. The first two days could be the best for batting here.

It was a difficult day for India.

First, Australia won what could prove a crucial toss. Then, India lost the services of its talismanic skipper Virat Kohli in the middle session.

Virat blow

The Indian skipper hurt his shoulder while diving to stop a racing ball close to the boundary ropes and had to leave the field. He will undergo a scan before the start of the second day. (Read more here)

SLIDESHOW: Third Test, Day 1 in pictures

Ajinkya Rahane led in Kohli’s absence but the Indians did go off the boil subsequently. The intensity was not quite there.  The Aussies focussed hard. Under pressure and scrutiny after the ‘DRS-Gate’ in Bengaluru, Smith faced 244 balls and struck 13 boundaries, blending defence with offence and picking gaps with precision.

Smith effect

He has a flourishing back-lift that appears to start from fourth slip, but he does bring the bat down straight and on time. A tendency to move towards the off-side leaves the leg-stump exposed but when the bowlers change their line to exploit this supposed weakness, he flicks and whips them for runs.

To put it simply, Smith is not an easy batsman to bowl at. On a day when he reached 5,000 Test runs in only his 97 innings – he is the seventh quickest to achieve the feat in terms of innings played – Smith applied himself and absorbed the pressure.

And he scored on both sides of the wicket, whether driving Ishant Sharma through covers, back-cutting R. Ashwin or drilling Umesh Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja through mid-wicket. His 19 Test hundred was well deserved.

Maxwell shows composure

Walking in to a crisis situation, Maxwell displayed great composure. He took his time to settle – Maxwell’s initial runs came only in singles – and rotated the strike with the smartness of an experienced campaigner.

An element of solidity in Maxwell’s batting was unmistakable. This nimble-footed batsman reined in his aggressive instincts and built a platform. Only when the Indian attack tired in the final hour did he open out. Maxwell stepped down the track delightfully to dismiss Jadeja over his head.

He also drove Ashwin through wide mid-off with balance and poise and rocked back to pull Jadeja over mid-wicket for the maximum.  

The Indian bowling struggled as the day wore on. The bowling lacked the control and accuracy that could have created pressure on this surface. The bowlers pitched on both sides of the wicket, were taken for runs.

No spin yet

Without purchase from the pitch, Ashwin and Jadeja were lesser bowlers. There was hardly any bite for them off the pitch. Save the occasion when Ashwin got a delivery to drift in and had the left-handed Shaun Marsh brilliantly held, bat-pad, by Cheteshwar Pujara at short-leg, the spinners could  not quite beat the Australian batsmen in the air.

In fact, Umesh Yadav’s pace and reverse swing represented the biggest threat for the Aussies. Umesh did strike twice, forcing the well-set left-hander Matt Renshaw to nick one that moved away from him and winning a leg-before shout against Peter Handscomb with a mean yorker.   

In the morning, David Warner, his mind under a siege in these conditions, discovered yet another way to get out, knocking a full toss back to Jadeja. Renshaw (44) looked good for more. He is calm at the crease, gets behind the line and is comfortable off either foot. India was on the offensive after lunch but ran into a roadblock in the form of Smith and Maxwell.