Melbourne: Australia needed another steadying knock from skipper Steven Smith (batting 72) to help the hosts reach 259 for five against India. Australia ended day one of the third Test’s proceedings nicely poised at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) here Friday.
Pacer Mohammed Shami was the pick of the Indian bowlers with figures of two for 55, followed by fellow quick Umesh Yadav (two for 69).
Australia were in urgent need of another responsible knock from their captain after some fine bowling display reduced the hosts to 216 for five after tea.
But Smith along with senior pro Brad Haddin (batting 23) showed composure in the middle to prevent Australia from falling apart against some quick and hostile pace bowling from the Indians.
Smith, who won the toss in his second Test as skipper, came in to the crease with his team at 115 for two at the dismissal of opener Chris Rogers (57) and soon saw well-set Shane Watson (52) depart on the same score.
He progressed to 23 at tea with Australia at 174 for three and the game nicely in the balance.
Smith, showcasing his fluent strokeplay and decisive footwork, accepted the burden of shaping his team’s innings that threatened to nosedive after the hosts lost two wickets in quick succession twice to be reduced to 115 for three and then 216 for five.
In the form of his life after posting centuries in Adelaide and Brisbane, the 25-year-old completed 1,000 Test runs this calendar year, in just his ninth match, when he reached 60.
Earlier in the morning, India began the proceedings with a bang as Yadav picked up the dangerous David Warner (0) even before Australia managed to open their account.
The early loss, coupled with disciplined bowling from the pacers, forced the Australians to a sedate start, allowing just eight runs from five overs.
After the initial period of caution and circumspect batting, both Rogers and No.3 batsman Watson settled down and unleashed some great shots.
India got a chance to break the partnership just at the stroke of lunch but failed to latch on to it. Watson, under pressure for his poor batting form, edged a Shami delivery but was grassed by a diving Shikhar Dhawan at second slip to help the hosts’ go into lunch at a commanding 92 for one.
The script unfolded similarly after lunch. Australia aimed to push on and extend their dominance through the partnership of two well-set batsmen, Rogers and Watson.
They were scoring briskly but all their plans stalled following the fall of the two batsmen in succession.
First, Rogers departed trying to launch into a booming drive but only managed to edge a Shami delivery to wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Then, Watson attempted an ill-advised sweep shot off Ravichandran Ashwin to be adjudged leg before wicket to reduce the home team to 174 for three at tea.
Australia had to start the rebuilding phase all over again with skipper Smith and Shaun Marsh (32).
They put on 69 runs for the fourth wicket and seemed to have got the measure of the bowling when their momentum got disrupted again with the dismissal of Marsh — caught behind off Shami.
Debutant Joe Burns (13) also didn’t last long, bottom-edging a Yadav shortball to Dhoni.
India held the upper hand at the time but soon ran into Smith who repelled everything that came his way.