Australia were on top at stumps on the first day of the third Test in Sydney, with half-centuries from debutant Will Pucovski and Marnus Labuschagne putting them in control against India on Thursday, 7 January.
On a day in which only 7.1 overs were possible in the first session due to rain, Australia posted 166/2 in 55 overs, their batsmen accelerating the scoring in the final leg of the day to ensure India returned to the dressing room a tad frustrated.
The day had begun promisingly for India, despite Tim Paine opting to bat. In the fourth over of the day, Mohammed Siraj, who had an impressive Test debut in Melbourne, had the dangerous David Warner caught at first slip for just 5. India looked primed for more at the time, but rain arrived just a couple of overs later, and the players had to race back to the dressing room.
Stumps in Sydney 🏏— ICC (@ICC) January 7, 2021
While India dismissed both openers, Australia look in a strong position after fifties from Will Pucovski and Marnus Labuschagne. Steve Smith remains unbeaten at the crease.#AUSvIND SCORECARD ▶ https://t.co/Zuk24dsH1t pic.twitter.com/m9XlIMwSun
They wouldn’t emerge again until after lunch. The Australians walked out determined and composed, and Pucovski and Labuschagne proceeded to numb the Indian attack, particularly paying attention to running quick singles and keeping the scoreboard ticking.
It didn’t help India’s cause that Rishabh Pant dropped two chances behind the stumps, both off Pucovski, who had looked a tad nervy early on in his maiden Test knock. Ashwin set him up beautifully with loop and drift to induce a faint edge, but Pant couldn’t pouch it. Pucovski was on 26 at the time. A couple of overs later, when Pucovski gloved a short one from Siraj, Pant put in the dive as it looped over him, but grassed the effort despite having two grabs at it.
Pucovski went on to score his maiden Test half-century, just before tea, getting to the mark with consecutive fours off India debutant Navdeep Saini. Shortly after the interval, when there was another brief spell of rain, Saini had his revenge, nailing Pucovski plumb in front. India had the breakthrough they desperately needed, breaking a 100-run second-wicket stand.
However, in came Smith, looking determined to start the new year with a bang, having struggled so far in this series. He was typically fidgety in front of stumps, but seemed to be timing the ball a lot better, and was intent on putting the Indians off their lengths with early hits to the fence. It didn’t take long for India captain Ajinkya Rahane to turn to the off-spinner R Ashwin, who has had the wood over Smith so far.
There was an engaging battle between the two. Ashwin was relentless in his positive approach, as was Smith, who at one point came down the track and lofted Ashwin for a four down the ground. What really troubled India, however, was the fact that Labuschagne, at the other end, was looking the best he has this series – he brought up his own half-century with a lovely cover-drive off Siraj.
Smith and Labuschagne blunted India’s efforts and denied them the late wicket they craved, putting on an unbroken 60 by the time stumps were drawn. They’ll hope to extend that partnership a great deal on the second day, which will start at half an hour earlier to make up for the lost time.
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