Honours shared on opening day despite Smith's rearguard action

Honours shared on opening day despite Smith's rearguard action
Captain Steven Smith put himself on course for his third successive century but India bowled reasonably well to restrict Australia to 259 for five on the opening day of the third cricket Test to leave the match on an even keel here today.

Electing to bat, Smith again proved to be the main tormentor for the visitors as he anchored the innings to remain undefeated on 72 at stumps on an absorbing first day of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.

The Australians lost David Warner (0) early but staged a recovery through Chris Rogers (57) and Shane Watson (52) with a 115-run partnership for the second wicket. The hosts then lost three quick wickets to allow the Indians to claw back into the game.

From a shaky 184 for four, the home team reached 259 for five, mainly through the watchful effort of their captain and Brad Haddin, who remained not out on 23.

Pacers Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami stuck to a tight line and length to grab two wickets apiece while an equally impressive Ravichandran Ashwin took one wicket.

Strike bowler Ishant Sharma was impressive in his spells but ended the day without any wicket.

Australia were put on the backfoot as soon as the match began as their danger-man Warner got dismissed for a duck off Yadav in the second over itself.

The visitors, however, failed to capitalise on the initial gains as Shikhar Dhawan, who took a low catch at the slips to dismiss Warner, put down an easy one when Watson was on 37 four overs before lunch. Australia went into the lunch on a comfortable 92 for one.

India recovered from a poor first session to pull things back and produced their best bowling display of the series, restricting the hosts in the other two sessions of play.

Smith, who came out to bat at number four at the fall of Rogers' wicket just after the start of post-lunch session, held one end together to ensure that Australia ended on a fighting score.

The 25-year-old skipper was in tremendous form having scored 375 runs from the first two Tests with two hundreds and one half century.

Post-tea, Smith looked to continue his fine run of form and help Australia dominate the last session in the company of Shaun Marsh (32 runs off 83 balls). But the visitors had other plans, continuing their good work and removing Marsh within 12 balls of play resuming in the final session.

Mohammad Shami (2/55) was the bowler, continuing his recovery from a poor morning session, as left-handed Marsh edged behind to keeper-captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Debutant Joe Burns (13) then walked out to a thunderous response but did not last long at the crease. He was dismissed by Umesh Yadav (2/69) in the 71st over, again caught behind.

The Indian attack zipped through their overs, thanks in part to the tremendous effort put in by Ashwin (1/60) on a day one pitch. The bowlers, in tandem, kept the run-scoring in check and stuck at regular intervals, never letting the Australian batsmen dominate in the last two sessions.

Burns had stayed long enough to bring up the 200-mark for the hosts in the 66th over, while Smith had reached his 10th Test fifty in the 71st over. He faced 96 balls, and hit four fours as well as a six, crossing 1000 runs in the calendar year on the way.

India delayed taking the second new ball, looking for more spin as Murali Vijay (0/14) turned his arm over.

But with eight overs remaining in the day's play, Dhoni did opt for the new cherry and handed it to Ishant (0/54) and Yadav. Smith and Haddin then negotiated those overs without any damage, bringing up the 250-mark in the 84th over in the process.

Earlier, Rogers and Watson had begun the post-lunch session looking to extend their 92-run partnership from the morning session and further frustrate the Indians. They began where they left off, bringing up the 100-mark in the 30th over as also their century-stand.

In the very next over, left-handed Rogers went on to score his third successive fifty of the series, his eighth overall in Tests. He reached there off 113 balls, with five fours.

At the other end, Watson overcame his poor run of scores and scored his first Test fifty in nine innings, off 74 balls, hitting four boundaries.

The duo looked good for plenty more when Shami struck against the run of play. Rogers was caught behind in the 37th over after the bowler had regained his composure after a poor display in the morning session.

In the very next over, Ashwin removed Watson, trapping him LBW as he went for a sweep-shot. The two bowlers then bowled a consistent spell, putting pressure on the two new batsmen at the crease.

In fact it was the first sustained pressure-spell from the Indian attack this series, with Ishant and Umesh Yadav also keeping things tight. The ground fielding also improved after a horrendous display in the morning.

But Smith and Marsh settled down to keep the scoreboard ticking, picking up the odd boundary when the opportunity presented. Just before the tea break, they helped bring up the 150-mark in the 52nd over, and then their 50-run stand six overs later.

In the morning, Australia won the toss and elected to bat first. The hosts made two changes to their eleven from the second Test. Ryan Harris came in for Mitchell Starc while Joe Burns made his debut in place of the injured Mitchell Marsh.

India too made two changes, bringing in Shami for Varun Aaron. Rohit Sharma was dropped to make way for debutant Lokesh Rahul, who will be batting at number six.

Rogers opened the innings with Warner. Ishant and Yadav bowled superbly in their initial spells, troubling the batsmen with their movement and creating pressure from both ends.

It resulted in Warner's wicket, in the second over itself, out for a duck caught off Yadav in the slips by dhawan. Watson arrived at the crease and he too was put under pressure by the two bowlers.

Even as India looked on top, using the little cloud cover to their advantage, the pressure began to ease off as Rogers-Watson combination began to settle down.

They started playing their shots and were helped by a poor effort in the field by the visitors. Runs started coming off quickly, nearly four per over in the first 10, and the 50-mark came up in 14th over.

After the medium pacers had lost their bearings, Ashwin was brought into the attack and he got some control giving away only four runs in five overs he bowled.

But there were too many moments of botched-up fielding efforts as India let go of their chance to go into the break in a better position.

The worst moment for India during the first morning came when Watson was given a life in the 25th over.

Shami was the unlucky bowler and he had created enough pressure to induce an edge when Dhawan jumped in front of first slip and let go off a simple chance, much to the visitors' anguish. The batsman was on 37 at that time. The duo avoided any such moments until the break thereafter.

Australia had won the first Test in Adelaide by 48 runs and then the second Test in Brisbane by four wickets to take a 2-0 lead in the four-match series.

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