Steven Smith’s latest epic, Glenn Maxwell’s first Test hundred and a spell of the highest quality from Pat Cummins showed Australia’s strengths even as India fought back with a solid opening stand on the second day in Ranchi. Some spiky help from the lower order lifted the tourists to 451 before Cummins extracted life from the friendliest pitch of the series to defeat KL Rahul.
M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara fought their way to the close, but the Australians still hold a first-innings lead of 331 on a pitch expected to get harder for batting from here on in. Virat Kohli, inconvenienced by a shoulder injury, will be able to bat wherever he chooses due to his problem being deemed external having resulted from a heavy landing when trying to stop a boundary on the first day of this match.
Kohli was confined to the hosts’ viewing area and treatment table due to a shoulder strain as the tourists pushed on beyond the day’s midpoint with a sensible mixture of attack and defence. Smith sailed on past 150 to the highest tally by an Australian captain in India, with only one instant of uncertainty when he edged Ishant Sharma short of Wriddhiman Saha. Otherwise, he was in total control, and might still be batting now were it not for a lack of partners.
The emotional high point of the morning arrived when Maxwell sliced a boundary through third man to pass three figures on his return to the Test team for the first time in three years. It was just reward for a highly mature and intelligent performance, one that vindicated the selectors’ decision to recall him in place of the injured Mitchell Marsh. At the same time, it also opened up an opportunity for Maxwell to begin a new phase of his career, as not only a limited-overs entertainer but also a Test-match performer.
Ravindra Jadeja’s five wickets were proof that some assistance was available for the spinners, with Maxwell and Cummins both defeated by deliveries that turned and lifted after being bowled at considerable pace by the left-armer. Australia’s chances of pressing home their current advantage will depend on how the pitch continues to deteriorate.
The second new ball was still shiny when Smith and Maxwell resumed, and plenty of early runs accrued from any errors of line or length from Ishant and Umesh Yadav. Maxwell was quick to 99 then briefly becalmed. One Jadeja delivery kicked and beat the bat in a forerunner of the ball that was to dismiss him five runs later.
Maxwell’s celebration was unrestrained, a tight embrace with Smith underlining the innings’ importance to him and also perhaps the example from whom he had gained an appreciation for the finer arts of Test batsmanship – Smith had himself once been a cricketer many doubted would mature into a five-day force.
When Jadeja claimed Maxwell’s edge, Matthew Wade arrived in a busy mood and wasted little time in building a 64-run stand with Smith. Just when it seemed captain and wicketkeeper would get through to the lunch interval, Jadeja skidded a straight ball through to claim Wade’s outside edge, well taken behind the stumps by Saha.
Cummins could last only two balls before his stumps were clattered by sharp spin, but Steve O’Keefe was able to get to the break in Smith’s company and endured for an hour after it with stern defence and the odd angry shot. Eventually, he fell prey to the hook shot, and Nathan Lyon did not last long against Jadeja’s bounce before Josh Hazlewood was run out as Smith tried to pinch the strike one last time.
The new ball did little for Hazlewood and Cummins when they opened shortly before tea, though Cummins’ pace offered a threat commensurate with that lost to the Australians when Mitchell Starc was forced home by a foot fracture. O’Keefe found turn slow, and Lyon soon reverted to the line from around the wicket that he often chooses when a pitch is not offering much assistance.
When the pacemen returned in the evening session there was a modicum of reverse swing for Hazlewood, but it was Cummins who raised his game to find a breakthrough by mixing his speeds with a series of cutters while maintaining an immaculate line. He was into his fifth over of the spell for four runs when a slower bouncer, again perfectly pitched, kissed Rahul’s top glove on the way through to Wade for a deserved wicket.
An over later, Cummins was rested after a burst that returned the figures of 1 for 8 and demonstrated the rare combination of brawn and brains that had the selectors rushing him to India. Lyon came close to following up when he struck Vijay in front of the stumps from around the wicket, only to be foiled by an inside edge. A subsequent bat-pad decision referral was still more clear cut.
Wickets will be hard work on day three, but Cummins, and Jadeja before him, had both shown that it can be done.