Australia toiled to end the day on an even keel, but the second day of the Sydney Test arguably belonged to India. First, they restricted Australia to 338, an under-par total on this SCG wicket having looked set for 400 at one stage, before the openers gave them a solid 70-run stand as they ate into the deficit on Friday (January 8), going to Stumps on 96 for 2, trailing by 242.
Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill were solid upfront, as Australia’s pacers struggled to get their lengths right. Anything outside off Rohit was more than willing to leave, while punishing anything short or slightly short and with width on offer, as the pair got as many as 11 boundaries and a six in their stay together with 40 runs coming off 41 short balls, while the openers were a bit circumspect against the good length and fuller ones in that first hour. Gill used his feet well against Nathan Lyon and was inventive with his strokeplay en route his maiden Test fifty.
Rohit was given out caught at short leg, but a review from the batsman showed no evidence of any bat. However, he fell soon after, driving a fuller one from Josh Hazlewood straight back to him who picked a sharp catch in his followthrough. Pat Cummins was getting some movement with the old ball and a delivery that just nipped away a bit undid Gill, who got a low outside edge to Cameron Green at gully, as Australia struck twice in quick succession.
Cummins was persisted with against Pujara, who he’s dismissed thrice so far in four innings, giving away just 14 balls in 83 balls. Australia’s plan against Pujara seemed simple: to get him to nick one against away seamers and with Cummins having found his lengths towards the end of the session, it was an interesting phase of play. The Australian pacers bowled to Pujara predominantly at the top of off, which he was happy to leave. Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane eventually kept Australia at bay.
Steve Smith, earlier, became the first Australian to score a century this series with a brilliant 131 after failures in the first two Tests. Yet, India was the happier side after having restricted Australia to 338 just before Tea, with Ravindra Jadeja throwing a spanner in the works. The SCG wicket had little in it for the bowlers, with batting gradually getting easier. After losing three quick wickets in the opening session of the day to give India the upper hand, Smith was seemingly running out of partners after a few more after the break with Jasprit Bumrah hitting the right lengths with the second new ball. Bumrah’s spell with the second new ball read 7-3-12-2 after Paine and Green’s wickets.
Mitchell Starc’s cameo of 24 helped Australia pass the 300-run mark, however, it was Smith, who held the Australian innings from falling apart with a spectacular comeback century, with signs of it aplenty at the start of his innings. His primary focus coming into the Test was to “middle the ball”; he not just did that, but through a determined knock gave Australia a total in excess of 300 for the first time in the series. With wickets falling at the other end rapidly, Smith switched gears for some quick runs, piercing the gaps, toying with the field, before running himself out after a superb direct hit from Jadeja, closing Australia’s innings, but not before exposing Australia’s continual frailty in the batting order.
Barring Will Pucovski’s maiden fifty on debut, and century stands between him and Labuschagne and later between Labushagne and Smith, no other Australia batsman really got going as India picked up timely wickets on a flat, benign surface. Australia were in a strong position when play resumed in the morning at 166 for 2 with two set batsmen in the middle, but Jadeja ended the century stand between them to help reduce Australia to 249 for 5 from 206 for 2 at one stage.
Smith and Labuschagne kept India at bay in the first hour who started off the day bowling at the stumps, persisting with the line of middle and leg against both batsmen. The pair carried on from where they had left off yesterday as Smith got to his first half-century in the series. He looked quite comfortable against both pace and spin as India held on to their leg-side trap. Rain intervened after 45 minutes of play, a phase where Australia scored just 22 runs in 11 overs.
Accustomed to the Indian pacers’ lines, the pair began to get the boundaries coming as the scoreboard trickled along with some aggressive running between the wickets. Labuschagne got onto the backfoot more often than not, while both batsmen were deep into their crease against the spinners, throwing them off a wee bit. Labuschagne, however, was undone as soon as the pair brought up their 100-run stand for the third wicket, getting onto the backfoot to punch it through covers only to find an outside edge that was taken sharply by Ajinkya Rahane at slip. He fell for 91, missing out on a century he looked set for.
Another brief shower brought a halt in proceedings thereafter, but Matthew Wade and Smith attacked Jadeja to get in a few boundaries. However, it was the bowler who had the last laugh as Wade replicated his dismissal against Ashwin in Melbourne to throw his wicket away in a bid to be aggressive. India took the new ball as soon as it was made available, and although there was no movement, some tight bowling to new batsman Cameron Green had him under the pump, eventually to be trapped leg-before with one that jagged back in for a 21-ball duck with India tilting the scales in their favour.
Brief Scores : Australia 338 (Marnus Labuschagne 91, Steve Smith 131; Jasprit Bumrah 2-66, Navdeep Saini 2-65, Ravindra Jadeja 4-62) lead India 96/2 (Shubman Gill 58) by 242 runs.