Smith hits ton on captaincy debut as Australia take lead

Smith hits ton on captaincy debut as Australia take lead
Steven Smith led the way with a magnificent century on his captaincy debut while Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc struck counter-attacking fifties as Australia gained a 95-run first-innings lead over India in the second cricket Test here today.

At tea on the third day at the Gabba, Australia reached 503 for nine in 109 overs. India had scored 408 runs in their first innings. After Smith and Johnson departed for 133 and a 93-ball 88 respectively, Starc was batting on 51 and giving him company was debutant Josh Hazlewood on 31.

After lunch, Smith and Johnson started off again to try and push the visitors back even more. India took the second new ball as soon as it became due. But it had little effect on the attacking duo at the crease who raised the highest ever seventh wicket stand at this ground.

The 148-run partnership, coming off 26 overs, was finally broken in the 88th over as Johnson edged behind to Mahendra Singh Dhoni off Ishant Sharma (3-117). He smashed 13 fours and one six, and might have changed the game completely over.

It was a double-blow for Australia in that over as Smith was finally dismissed for the first time in the series, playing on to his stumps. The young skipper faced 191 balls, hitting 13 fours and two sixes.

Even as the 400-run mark came up in the 89th over, India would have hoped that the rest of the tail-enders would provide little resistance. But they were proven wrong by a 56-run ninth wicket stand between Starc (51, 57 balls, six fours) and Nathan Lyon (23). The visitors' attack that had looked quite impressive on day two was now reeling under the tail's onslaught as this pairing too added their runs at a fast clip.

Umesh Yadav (3-101), Varun Aaron (2-145) and R Ashwin (1-126) all failed to impress even as Starc-Lyon scored at 6.72 runs per over.

It didn't help that Starc was dropped by Yadav off his own bowling in the 91st over, the batsman on 17 not out at that time. Eventually Lyon offered a chance to Rohit Sharma at mid-on and the fielder latched on to it. Starc though kept batting, reaching his fourth Test fifty off 53 balls in the 106th over.

He added a further 49 unbeaten runs for the last wicket with Josh Hazlewood as the 500-run mark was crossed in the 108th over of the innings, even as the session was extended by half an hour on account of the last pair being at the crease.

Earlier, Smith became only the ninth Australian captain to score a hundred whilst leading in his first Test. He followed in the footsteps of Billy Murdoch (1880), Harry Trott (1896), Monty Noble (1903), Clem Hill (1910), Warwick Armstrong (1920), Lindsay Hassett (1949), Greg Chappell (1975) and Graham Yallop (1978). Doing so, he put on a swashbuckling 104 runs off just 14.5 overs for the seventh wicket with Johnson.

In the morning session, the match hung in balance as Ishant bowled Mitchell Marsh (11) as he left to leave an incoming delivery only to see his stumps disturbed. While Smith stayed solid at the other end, Brad Haddin (6) was rattled as soon as he came to the crease.

Ishant troubled him with full, incoming deliveries and had a couple good LBW shouts against the batsman. It was Aaron though who prized away the wicket as the keeper-batsman was forced to fend a quick short ball and lobbed a simple catch to Cheteshwar Pujara at short leg.

It brought Johnson and Smith together and first up the visiting side tried to get on the nerves of the left-arm pace bowler. It didn't work at all as he responded by unleashing an attacking array of strokes and the runs started flowing from his bat across all parts of the ground. Johnson took a special liking towards Ishant and Aaron, taking 37 runs off only 19 balls faced from the two bowlers.

He also hit Yadav for 18 runs off as many balls, as the 7th wicket partnership raced to 50-runs in just 43 balls. The 300-run mark came up for Australia in the 69th over as Johnson proceeded to strike three boundaries in that Yadav over. He hit another three fours in the 71st over bowled by Aaron as he reached his 10th Test fifty off only 37 balls.

But Smith then didn't let up the momentum on the other end as the run-rate zoomed over seven runs per over for the last half hour of this pre-lunch session.

In the 73rd over of the innings then, Smith reached his 6th Test hundred – and second of the series – off 147 balls. Two overs later the 100-run partnership off only 82 balls between the duo came up, as also the 350-mark for the home-team as India went into the break on the back-foot.

On day one, Murali Vijay scored his 5th Test hundred – and 4th against Australia – as India took charge of proceedings, finishing at 311/4 at stumps. On day two, debutant Josh Hazlewood took his maiden Test five-wicket haul with figures of 5-68 after which Australia finished the day at 221/4.

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