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Smith holds key after even day

Indian bowlers do well to prise out top order wickets, but captain takes Australia to 259 for 5 on first day

Smith holds key after even day - Cricket News
Steve Smith built on his recent form with a solid unbeaten 72 to cross 1,000 runs for the calendar year.
When you walk on Australia’s streets, traffic whizzes by at top speed. Pedestrians stay within the lines, and when the green man signal appears, marking the safe time to dart across, you put your head down and get to the other end. There’s a sense of purpose to every single person around, no one dawdles. And the nine days of Test cricket that happened before the first day of the third Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, perfectly mirrored this.
 
At Adelaide and Brisbane, each day’s play, no, each session, was packed with action, runs flowing, wickets being prised out, the Test moving inexorably towards a conclusion. In Melbourne, as Australia got to 259 for 6 at the end of Friday (December 26), the Test had moved with all the urgency of a tramp looking for a patch of shade under which to stretch out and watch the world go by.
 
Two unusual things happened – India bowled its 90 overs within the time allotted and Australia scored at below three runs an over. For the first time in this series, you got the sense that both teams were desperately committed to ensuring that the other side did not snatch away the advantage without being made to fight for every inch gained.
 
India, who made two changes, handing a debut to KL Rahul in place of the out-of-sorts Rohit Sharma, and brought Mohammed Shami in for Varun Aaron, set the tone early on. Ishant Sharma treated the new ball with the respect it deserved, tightening his line and length to ensure that there were no free hits on offer to either David Warner or Chris Rogers. More than once, Ishant’s angular deliveries speared past the outside edge of the two left-hand batsmen, Rogers in particular searching for balls he could have left well alone.
 
India began with three maiden overs, something the team had not done since the Edgbaston Test of 2011, and the reward followed, Warner jabbing Umesh Yadav to third slip where Shikhar Dhawan took a good catch low down.
 
Shane Watson, who has kept the No. 3 spot thanks in major part to the manner in which he has bowled, trusted his method, taking deliveries from the offstump and beyond, and working them through midwicket, his front foot plonked down the pitch, inviting the bowlers to look for the lbw. While this plan was once a good one to Watson, the Indians will do well to note that Watson has been dismissed lbw only twice in the last 10 Test matches he has played, but has been caught by the slip or ‘keeper predominantly in the same period.


 
However, Rogers made the most of surviving the early spell and Watson rode his luck. When the edge was induced off Watson, by Shami, Dhawan dove in front of R Ashwin in the slip cordon only to juggle the ball and drop it.
 
That Watson chose the MCG to break an eight-innings run without a half-century was as appropriate as carols in Christmastide, for the allrounder averaged 95.3 at this venue before his latest hit. Rogers, who likes to let the ball come to him, after which he coaxes it to go where he wants, was the perfect foil to Watson’s more nakedly aggressive, punchy approach, and the two brought up their fifth century partnership, pushing Australia towards safety.
 
Just when it appeared that the home team’s batsmen would cash in after doing the initial hard work, India struck twice, Rogers (57) prodding at a fullish ball to nick, and Watson (52) playing a hard-handed premeditated sweep against Ashwin and missing, to be trapped in front.
 
Ashwin, who was in the middle of an excellent spell, bowling exactly as you would expect a finger spinner to on a first-day pitch that offered little or no assistance, had the astonishing figures of 11-5-8-1 at one point. And he achieved his success not by firing the ball flat and fast, but by repeatedly asking questions of the batsmen, threatening to pick up wickets.
 
At different times in the day, India was in positions where a couple of wickets added to the score would leave Australia in tatters. But, Steve Smith, the man with the goofy smile and golden bat, did not even entertain the possibility that things could go wrong for his team, even as others around him played lesser hands. Shaun Marsh, whose back-foot play is a thing of rare beauty, all balance and straight lines, made 32 before trying to cut a ball that was too straight for the shot and bounced a touch. Joe Burns, making his debut, looked nerveless, gamely lofting the spinner early in his innings, but rushed into a pull shot off Yadav and only managed a thin bottom edge to Dhoni.
 
Smith, who is in the kind of touch at the moment where playing soft-handed forward defensive strokes and full-blooded booking drives come just as easily, took his time at the crease. The fast bowlers were handled with assurance when they bowled the ball in the right areas, and Smith used his twinkle-toes to get to the pitch of the spinner and loft him over the top when the pressure was too much to take.
 
Unbeaten on 72 from as many as 158 balls, Smith helped Brad Haddin overcome a barrage of short-pitched bowling and the two took Australia to stumps at 259 for 5. If the two teams keep up with each other as they did on the first day, this Test could unfold as yet another thriller.
 
To review the Australia v India match in full, please click here.

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