Australia will be the happier team of the two as they ended Day 1 of the 3rd Test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in a comfortable position against India. Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne gritted it out as they took the home team to 166 for 2 as they look well-set for a formidable target. With the pitch only going to get better on the next two days, the Indians will hope they can put an early end to the 60-run partnership that has threatened to take the game away from them.
Smith, who had scored just ten runs in four innings before the game, got off to a determined start as he sent a pitched up ball from Jasprit Bumrah for a four – his first boundary of the series. The Australian, who had struggled against Ravi Ashwin throughout the series was in a more aggressive mood against the off-spinner, as he used his feet well and did not allow Ashwin to settle down as he scored runs at a quick pace to unsettle the rival team. He was unbeaten on 31 at the end of the day, with Labuschagne on 67.
Labuschagne was in fine form right from the very start. Walking in to bat after the early dismissal of David Warner, who was playing his first Test of the series, Labuschagne joined hands with debutant Will Pucovski, scoring a century plus stand. Though rain affected most parts of the first session, the two batters did not let that bother them as they came out all guns blazing in the second session. After being dropped twice by Rishabh Pant, the duo started counter attacking as runs came at a fast pace. Pucovski first escaped as Pant missed a straight one as the batsman played for the turn, and then got another lifeline as India’s wicket-keeper missed a running catch that he put down.
Though the Indians managed to tie down the Australian batters for a while in the second session, the two lifelines allowed them to change their mindset. The pair started taking quick singles and went after Ashwin, in particular, who looked a pale shadow as he conceded plenty of loose deliveries. They were at ease against the short balls and played all around the park, as the Australians seized control.
Earlier, it was Mohammad Siraj who shone in the first session as he bowled tight lines and lengths. He troubled the newcomer Pucovski with a number of short balls, while Ashwin, like in the previous games, bowled around the middle and the leg stump to pose a series of questions. Siraj got the first wicket of the day as he dismissed Warner early on to give India the early advantage. The left-hander did not look at his best, as the long break – he last played competitive cricket in the last week of November – seemed to have affected him. He was tentative while running between the wickets, which indicated that he might not have been a 100 percent fit from the groin injury that he had suffered in the ODI series against India. The lack of footwork was evident as he tried to go after almost every delivery. He was eventually dismissed for 5 as he looked to slash a wide delivery, only to get the outside edge.
However, all hopes of ensuring that Australia took the wrong decision after opting to bat first were dismissed as Labuschagne and Pucovski got together. The latter took his time to get a feel of the surface but looked comfortable as the innings progressed. The Indians might rue the fact that they got in Ravindra Jadeja late, who bowled seven successive maiden overs. Perhaps the left-hander could have been the answer as the Australians scored 50 runs in just 58 balls in the middle session. They finally breathed a sigh of relief as India’s debutant Navdeep Saini got his first Test wicket, sending Pucovski back with a fuller delivery that caught the batsman plumb in front. However, Steve Smith ensured that he put aside the demons of the last four innings, as he and Labuschagne guided the team to stumps without further loss of wickets.
The talking point of the day was undoubtedly the number of overs that Jasprit Bumrah bowled. At one point, he had sent down almost 45 percent of the overs that the Indians bowled, and the management would do well to not overbowl him.
Brief scores: Australia 166/2 (Will Pucovski 62, Marnus Labuschagne 67*, Steve Smith 31*; Mohammed Siraj 1-46, Navdeep Saini 1-32) vs India.