For all the negative talk surrounding the pitch, the track at Ranchi poured cold water on anyone hoping to rip into it further. India and Australia were welcomed by a track that usually kept low, but one that has been the best for batting so far in the three Tests. Australia’s day end score of 299 for 4 only proves the point.
Bat dominated ball for major parts of the opening day, after Australia won the toss and elected to bat first, but India fought hard to ensure they stayed in the game with vital breakthroughs early in the day. The visitors’ innings was highlighted by a composed hundred from their captain Steve Smith, who played a near flawless innings and celebrated reaching 5000 Test runs with a fine century. Glenn Maxwell was the other batsman who impressed, shelving his natural game, to notch up his maiden Test fifty. They duo batted through the day, with Smith ending on to 117 and Maxwell moving to within 18 runs of a century himself.
With the pitch generally keeping low, the Indian pacers bowled a stump-to-stump line hoping to rid the openers by trapping them in front. However, the alleged devils in the track were amiss, and Matt Renshaw and David Warner played out the pacers’ initial burst comfortably.
Renshaw happily feasted on the middle-stump line as he clipped off his legs beautifully and collected easy runs. His first six scoring shots were all boundaries. Warner at the other end was more careful, and that led to his downfall.
After the pair had put together fifty runs, Warner was caught in two minds about how to play an easy full toss, his half-swipe, half-drive went back to Ravindra Jadeja, who took a sharp catch.Virat Kohli gave both R Ashwin and Umesh Yadav a change of ends soon after, and that resulted in big wickets for the hosts ahead of the Lunch break. Renshaw (44), strangely looked to play across his body on multiple occasions and Umesh induced an edge that was snapped up by Kohli at slip. Shaun Marsh then gave Cheteshwar Pujara at bat-pad a sharp chance and had to return for two.
Smith at the other end was at the start of a fine innings. With an in-out field to counter, Smith picked the gaps effortlessly, while his quick running between the wickets also helped him keep ticking the strike over. Peter Handscomb was out LBW when Umesh surprised him with an inswinging yorker, but in Maxwell, one of two replacements for Australia alongside Pat Cummins, Australia found a steady hand.
Maxwell was playing in only his fourth Test and was understandably nervous, as seen when he plonked his front foot down and played his first delivery unconvincingly. However, alongside Smith, he grew in confidence and was able to milk the bowlers.
The pitch, too, offered no real help for the seamers or spinners, with India relying heavily on reverse swing to prise out the wickets. From there on, it turned out to be a game of patience. Smith and Maxwell were equal to the task.
Australia’s scoring went down, but Smith ensured that they were never really under any pressure to score quick by putting away the bad balls. India suffered a setback of their own when Kohli had to leave the field holding his shoulder after injuring it while trying to field the ball. Ajinkya Rahane was left to take over the reins for the rest of the day.
India had a couple of half chances during the phase, with Smith’s attempted flick landing short of KL Rahul at mid-on and Maxwell surviving a close LBW shout. Soon Maxwell was confident enough to loft Jadeja down the ground, but his first boundary had come off the 57th delivery he faced. He went on to bring up his maiden Test fifty with a lofted pull for six off the same bowler. That shot also brought up the 100-run stand for Smith and Maxwell. Smith was his usual self at the other end, knocking singles and boundaries easily to move towards his second hundred in the series.
The lack of success even forced Jadeja to move to over the stumps for the right-handers, and he succeeded in drying up the runs. Smith, eventually, got to his hundred, having been stuck in the nineties for more than 36 deliveries, with a four off Murali Vijay in the 83rd over. It was his 19th hundred in Tests, and his slowest thus far.
Australia ended the final session without any wicket lost, only the second such instance in this series. India will desperately hope that they can send back the two set batsmen tomorrow and bat on this pitch while it is as good for batting as it still is.
Brief Scores: Australia 299/4 (Steve Smith 117*, Glenn Maxwell 82*; Umesh Yadav 2-63) vs India