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Smith ton helps set India 441-run target

Wisden India logo Wisden India 25-02-2017
© AP

In a little more than a month, Steven Smith will be captaining Rising Pune Supergiant in the Indian Premier League. He showed he could bat like a colossus as Australia captain too, with a masterful 109 off 202 balls on the third afternoon of the first Test against India at Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune on Saturday (February 25). It was a brilliant knock in trying conditions and allowed Australia to set India a 441-run target to achieve in eight sessions.

Australia were bowled out for 285 in an extended morning session in their second innings. R Ashwin finished with 4 for 119 while Ravindra Jadeja picked up the last wicket, that of India’s second-day tormentor Steven O’Keefe, to end with a miserly 3 for 65 in 33 overs.

Resuming at 143 for 4, the overnight pair of Smith and Mitchell Marsh struck the right balance of vigilance and aggression to keep the scoreboard ticking along. They were able to negotiate Ashwin’s bowling without much fuss, but Jadeja was getting some alarming turn that kept both batsmen watchful.

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What hurt India the most was that the fielding continued to be less than stellar, and stellar was what it needed to be after they lost seven wickets for 11 runs to be bowled out for 105 in their first innings and handing Australia the advantage.

A run-out opportunity went begging on the third ball of the day, and Ajinkya Rahane was slightly late to react to grab a thick edge off Ashwin’s bowling. On both occasions, Smith was the batsman. He had been dropped thrice on the second day as well.

© AP

Jadeja relieved some of India’s irritation with the wicket of Marsh for 31, getting the batsman to come forward and inducing a thin edge that was pouched by Wriddhiman Saha. Strangely, the wicketkeeper didn’t appeal evn though the batsman walked off without much hesitation.

There was also an interesting subplot within the game: India’s calls for reviews, and sometimes the lack of them. Jadeja got one to straighten against Smith, and though it hit pad first, Richard Kettleborough, the umpire, wasn’t sure and indicated as much to an inquiring Virat Kohli. Replays showed that it would have gone on to hit middle.

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The frustration continued to build with another appeal turned down – Umesh Yadav pinging Matthew Wade’s helmet, it turned out, when they had appealed for a catch. Wade then toe-ended a delivery from Umesh back to Saha, but the umpire missed it and the batsman stood his ground. India had no reviews left at that stage. Fortunately for India, Wade (20) was on his way four balls later when an attempted drive went awry against the same bowler.

But that only brought Mitchell Starc to the middle and he gave Smith excellent company with a 42-run partnership for the seventh wicket. Along the way, Smith brought up his maiden Test hundred in India, scampering back for two runs after nudging a ball from Jadeja to deep cover. He has 17 hundreds elsewhere in the world, but this knock would rank right near the top, coming on a tricky pitch against the No. 1 Test team in their backyard when everybody and their dog was predicting a 4-0 drubbing. The satisfaction was writ across Smith’s face as he soaked in the moment, and even a wounded India didn’t begrudge him applause.

Smith finally departed for 109 when the lead had crossed 400, with Jadeja rapping the batsman in front. He reviewed but it was a straightforward dismissal. Starc, however, was at his feisty best with a run-a-ball 30, including three sixes and two fours, before he gave Ashwin his fourth wicket, and Australia were able to add an additional 27 runs to compound India’s misery futher.

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