Pune, February 25
Skipper Steven Smith once again turned out to be a nemesis with a superb century on dodgy track helping Australia set a massive target of 441 for India at lunch on the third day of the first cricket Test.
Australia were all-out for 285 in their second innings as their overall lead swelled to a gigantic 440 runs courtesy Smith’s 18th Test hundred.
The Australian skipper scored 109 off 202 balls with 11 boundaries, an innings that will certainly be considered as one of the best by an overseas batsman on a devilish Indian track which had sharp turn and bounce. It was his fifth consecutive century against India in as many Tests.
If India manage to achieve the uphill target, it will be highest by any team in the history of Test cricket. India’s highest ever run-chase was 387 against England in Chennai back in 2008 when Virender Sehwag played a blinder on the fourth evening to set up the victory.
Australia today added 142 runs in the extended opening session in 41 overs after commencing at the overnight score of 143 for 4 with Smith (59) and Mitchell Marsh (21) at the crease.
Smith curbed his natural attacking instincts to slowly and steadily using his feet to good effect.
However, by the time of the visiting team’s skipper departure at 246 the Australian lead had gone well past the 400 mark – a huge one by any reckoning that looks impregnable on this treacherous pitch.
Mitchell Starc, who made a whirlwind 61 in the first innings, later treated the bowlers harshly by striking 3 sixes and 2 fours in a quick-fire 30 off 31 balls before he was caught in the deep off Ravichandran Ashwin to give the off spinner his first wicket of the day and fourth overall.
Jadeja sent back Marsh for 31 and Stephen O’Keefe for 6 to terminate the innings and end up with innings figures of 3 for 65 while Ashwin’s analysis read 4 for 119.
Umesh Yadav, the only other successful bowler, finished with 2 for 39 to add to his 4 for 32 in the first innings.
Shoulders of the Indian team members started to droop as the 27-year-old Smith used the fielders’ largesse and a few umpiring errors to inch his way to his hundred.
He looked unflappable even after being reprieved on quite a few occasions before reaching the 18th hundred of his career, and fifth against India, by striking a four and then taking a couple of runs off Ravindra Jadeja in the left-arm tweaker’s second spell of the day.
Smith’s superb effort has effectively shut the door on the Indians in their pursuit of taking a 1-0 lead in the four-game rubber.
The butter-fingered Indian fielders, who dropped Smith on 27 and 37 yesterday, continued to grass him as Ajinkya Rahane failed to latch on to a sharp chance at leg slip when he had added 7 runs to his overnight total.
Off-spinner Ashwin, who was the bowler to induce mistakes from Smith’s blade on both occasions yesterday, was the bowler to suffer again today and the ball also ran away to the boundary. —PTI