Australia lost eight wickets for 132 runs to be bundled out for 338
WATCH: Smith roars back to form with century at SCG
India 96 for 2 (Gill 50, Rohit 26) trail Australia 338 (Smith 131, Labuschagne 91, Jadeja 4-62) by 242 runs
After what initially looked like Australia’s day in the first hour and then India’s as they took quick wickets, the second Test at the SCG remained finely balanced with a fighting century from Steven Smith, a crucial four-for from Ravindra Jadeja, an impressive maiden half-century from Shubman Gill and some tight bowling from the hosts to end the day. India were still trailing Australia’s 338 by 242 runs after they dominated the day scripting Australia’s collapse of 132 for 8 around Smith, who was run out for 131.
In reply, a steady stand between Gill and Rohit Sharma – India’s third opening combination in as many matches – of 70 gave India a platform before both fell in quick succession for 50 and 26 respectively. Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara used straight-bat techniques with caution in the last hour without bothering much about the scoring rate in their stand of 11 runs in 12.5 overs.
Gill and Sharma also used compact technique against the good balls and the necessary scoring shots when the bowlers erred. The ball hardly moved around and the lack of edges or batsmen getting beaten would have left Mayank Agarwal feeling a little unlucky especially watching Sharma score freely on the flattest track of the series so far.
A patient Gill left and defended balls off the back foot, pulled with style and even ramped while hogging the strike against his Kolkata Knight Riders team-mate Pat Cummins, whereas Sharma had a mini-battle against Nathan Lyon that featured maidens, a straight six, a paddle sweep for four, and a close bat-pad appeal before the opener handed a return catch to Josh Hazlewood for 26. Gill cruised to 50 soon after but produced a rare edge which was taken sharply by Cameron Green at gully off Cummins.
Smith had earlier saved Australia in the middle of a collapse when he marshalled them to a respectable score with a 27th Test century – his eighth against India and third in five innings at the SCG across formats. Their collapse was started and wrapped up by Jadeja who first dismissed Marnus Labuschagne and Matthew Wade in quick succession before returning later in the day to remove Cummins and Lyon. In between, Jasprit Bumrah’s new-ball burst produced a fiery spell of 7-3-12-2 that sent back Cameron Green and Tim Paine cheaply. Jadeja then fired in a direct hit from the deep to run Smith out.
Smith’s innings was paced to perfection as he put an end to a string of single-digit scores. He started the day with a crisp cover drive off Bumrah, was forced to play plenty of deliveries around the stumps with India’s leg-side trap in place for the old ball, and then left plenty outside off when the visitors changed their lines with the second new ball. At the end, he also collected quick runs with his drives and trademark flicks when wickets started to tumble, scoring 71 of the 106 runs Australia managed after the fourth wicket.
Things were more promising for Australia when the day started as Labuschagne and Smith looked comfortable against a ball that was already 55 overs old in the hands of India’s inexperienced attack, and the duo stretched them past 200 with just two wickets down. But Rahane’s introduction of Jadeja worked as the left-arm spinner first had Labuschagne edge to slip for a sharp catch by Rahane for 91, and then accepted a gift from Wade who stepped out and skied a catch to mid-on when the second new ball was just over three overs away. And once India got that new ball, Bumrah zipped and moved it around to trouble the middle order.
He set up Green and Paine in similar fashion: he first teased them with away-swingers and some that held their lines before he suddenly brought one in to trap Green lbw for a 21-ball duck and then shattered Paine’s stumps for 1. Only Starc contributed from the tail with a brisk 30-ball 24.
Smith, meanwhile, was hardly fazed. Despite Bumrah’s twin strikes, he punched the fast bowler for a four on off and flicked him next ball for quick runs to approach the nineties. Next over, he flicked Navdeep Saini for four to reach 93, and after another 17 balls in the nineties he got to his century with a nudge behind square on leg followed by a rare animated celebration that saw him punch the air with the bat in one hand and the helmet in the other.
“I’m reading lots of things people say about being out of form, but I think there’s a difference between out of form and out of runs so it was just nice to score a few and maybe keep a few people quiet,” he told Fox Cricket soon after the century.
As wickets fell, he ramped and swatted Bumrah for fours, and slog-swept Jadeja. He eventually fell short of a second run despite a dive as Jadeja fired in a throw from the deep on the leg side that hit the base of the stumps.
Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo