Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith made hay while the sun shone at the Sydney Cricket Ground on the third day of the third Test between Australia and India on Saturday to put the hosts in complete control.
Despite sending both the Aussie openers back to the hut by the 10th over, the Indian bowlers failed to penetrate further as Australia's score read 103/2 at stumps -- Labuschagne batting on 47 and Smith batting on 29. With the odd-ball keeping low, the lead of 197 runs with eight wickets in the bag looks more than handy as the Aussies look to go for the kill.
The Indian bowlers had started impressively with pacer Mohammed Siraj removing debutant Will Pucovski (10) in the sixth over while spinner Ravichandran Ashwin picked David Warner (13) for the 10th time in the longest format of the game.
But India's joy ended right there on the third evening as Labuschagne and Smith then added an unbeaten 68 off 121 balls to all but bat India out of the game. It will take a herculean task from the Indians to make a comeback into this game after a middle-order collapse saw India fold up for 244 in their first essay.
If the batting and bowling displays are a worry, injuries to wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja isn't a good sign. Both the players were taken for scans and it will be interesting to see if Jadeja returns to the field on the fourth morning as the Sydney wicket is known to start turning from the closing stages of the third day.
While Pant received a nasty hit on his left elbow after missing a pull shot against pacer Pat Cummins, Jadeja was hit on the left thumb as he fended at a rising delivery from Mitchell Starc. While the commentators speculated if he had dislocated his thumb, the all-rounder carried on batting after receiving treatment from the physio. Both the players did not take the field in the final session. Wriddhiman Saha kept wickets in Pant's absence while Mayank Agarwal came in as substitute fielder for Jadeja.
Earlier, India's middle and lower-order failed to get going and the second session saw six wickets falling for 64 runs. In the first session, Australia managed to get the breakthroughs of Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari. Cummins cleaned up Rahane (22) in the 55th over of the innings while Vihari faced 38 balls for his four runs and was finally run out.
Resuming the second session of the third day at 180/4, Rishabh Pant and Cheteshwar Pujara saw off the first few overs with the second new ball, and the duo brought up their 50-run stand in the 87th over of the innings. However, in the very next over, Josh Hazlewood had Pant (36) caught at first slip reducing India to 195/5.
Pujara who registered his slowest fifty in Test cricket was sent back to the pavilion almost immediately after bringing up the individual milestone. Cummins, who bothered the visitors from the very start, got the crucial wicket of Pujara (50) and it was the start of another collapse. While Pujara did bring up a fifty, his 176-ball knock wasn't the approach that the team management was looking at on a wicket which didn't really have any demons. Even former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting hinted that Pujara's approach wasn't the best one. In fact, he went on to add how Pujara could have put the other batsmen under pressure.
Jadeja and Mohammad Siraj added 28 crucial runs for the last wicket, but in the end it wasn't much as India handed Aussies a 94-run lead. There were three run-outs in the Indian innings, while Cummins picked four wickets.
Brief Scores: Australia 338 & 103/2 (Marnus Labuschagne 47*, Steve Smith 29*; M Siraj 1-20); India 244 (Cheteshwar Pujara 50, Shubman Gill 50; Pat Cummins 4-29)