RANCHI: Steve Smith continued to be India’s nemesis by scoring a superb century as Australia recovered from early setbacks to reach a comfortable 299 for 4 on the first day of the third cricket Test here.
In the eye of a storm for his ‘DRS Brain Fade’ during the second Test, Smith (117*) showed steely resolve en route his 19th Test hundred. None among the Indian bowling quartet could trouble him during the 244 balls that he faced.
Comeback-man Glenn Maxwell (82 batting) also played his role to perfection with a solid effort, adding 159 runs in 47.4 overs for the fifth wicket.
Maxwell’s proficiency against spin also helped Smith to play his own game. Incidentally, this was Maxwell’s first 50 plus score in Test cricket.
If it wasn’t enough that bowlers had a hard day, Indian captain Virat Kohli suffered a shoulder injury while fielding and was out of action for more than one session. In Kohli’s absence, stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane’s leadership lacked imagination.
Australia would certainly be looking at a total in excess of 500 with an aim to bat India out of the match during the first innings itself.
This was after Australia were precariously placed at 140 for 4 with Umesh Yadav (2/63 in 19 overs) providing a fantastic exhibition of reverse swing bowling.
The day belonged to Smith, who has now scored six Test hundreds against India in the last seven appearances. The pitch was low and slow to begin with and there wasn’t much turn on offer for the Indian spin twins today.
With no help from the track, Ravichandran Ashwin (1/78 in 23 overs) and Ravindra Jadeja (1/80 in 30 overs) had nothing special in their armoury to trouble the Australian skipper, who hit 13 boundaries in his innings.
For the record, the Australian captain also completed his 5000 runs in Test cricket.
Smith came in at a time when Umesh was bowling quite well. He saw off that spell and then played all the Indian bowlers with ease.
He didn’t show any hurried approach yet got the runs at a fair pace. With Maxwell hitting his share of sixes — two off Jadeja apart from five fours –, Smith found it easier to disturb Jadeja’s length.
With no rough created on either side of the wicket, Jadeja’s deliveries lacked any bite whatsoever.
Ashwin got a few past the bat but the slowness of the wicket helped the batsmen adjust their footwork.
Smith reached to the second century of the series in 227 balls when he drove Murali Vijay through long-on boundary.
In the process, Smith also became third fastest batsman in 53 Tests to get to 5000 runs after Sir Don Bradman had reached the milestone in his 36th Test and Sunil Gavaskar took 52 matches to reach the landmark.
Known for his big hits in the Indian Premier League, Maxwell looked a different batsman in his measured and calculated innings.
Maxwell also curbed his trademark reverse sweep shot that had fetched him so many runs as and took 52 balls for his first boundary, a swing of the bat against a Jadeja’s full length delivery.
The only time he looked beaten was on 37 when he seemed to take an edge off Jadeja but Saha dropped it behind the stumps, something that did not have an edge. Maxwell pulled Jadeja over midwicket to bring up his maiden Test 50 with a six.
There was some comic relief when Saha chased the ball right out of Smith’s legs as in the wrestle both fell down. On 97, Smith tried to jab the ball into the vacant leg side, took an outside edge as it got stuck between his legs.
A determined Saha however tried to grab it from between his legs and in the process the duo provided a hilarious moment. Even umpire Ian Gould could not resist a hearty laugh.
India took the new ball in the 86th over but a breakthrough still eluded them.