Both Australia and India will share first day honours after an old fashioned hard fought days play at the MCG for the traditional Boxing Day Test. The only Test not to be affected by the schedule reshuffle, showed why it was an important event of the Australian sporting calender, attracting 69,993 people through the turnstiles, including 5000 members of the Swami Army – the Indian fan group.
Day 1 began with Steve Smith winning the toss and electing to bat, and almost instantly may have regretted his decision. Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav applied pressure from both ends with probing lines and lengths which resulted in the in-form David Warner being dismissed for a duck in the second over of the game, caught by Dhawan at third slip off Yadav. The pressure was maintained until a series of three misfields in the 4th over which resulted in a bye and two successive misfields which allowed Rogers to get off the mark and keep strike.
Shami had been recalled to replace Varun Aaron – who has had leave the touring squad momentarily to attend to family issues back in India – provided Ishant and Yadav with great support. After a wayward start, Shami found his areas on a pitch that was providing a little bit of assistance. He drew Watson into a false drive, and should have had Australia two down on the way to lunch but for Dhawan to drop a diving chance at second slip, a chance that was probably better left to the first slipper.
Rogers and Watson consolidated, reaching their hundred run partnership shortly after lunch before both perishing within an over of each other. Rogers pushed at a length delivery by Shami to find the edge into Dhoni’s waiting gloves. The very next over Ravi Ashwin had Watson plumb in front after he had missed a sweep shot. The two quick wickets got India back into the game, and the second session proved to be theirs with the addition of 82 runs for those wickets.
Shaun Marsh and Steve Smith were together at the crease and the brakes had been applied to the Australian innings. Ashwin was bowling a containing line and length from one end, with the seamers probing away at the other. The loss of either one of Smith or Marsh prior to tea would have tipped the match heavily in India’s favour, and some restraint from both batsmen especially the inform Smith allowed Australia to get to Tea safely.
Marsh eventually fell to Shami caught behind for 32, which brought the debutant Joe Burns to the crease. Burns looked good on his way to 13, which included two boundaries, only to be unluckily given out caught behind in a decision that could have gone either way with DRS not being used in this series.
Haddin entered the crease and received a barrage of short pitched bowling, even wearing a few on the body – reminiscent more of touring Indian batsmen than the hosts themselves, while Smith continued to bat on like he had just been continuing his innings from the last Test, and never really looked in much trouble after Tea. India continued to give Smith the single to try and target Haddin as he looked quite scratchy, but ended the days play on 23 not out, with Smith on his way to yet another century with 72 not out.
The first session of Day 2 will be as important as ever. India have shown on this tour that they are very capable of giving the momentum back to the opposition after being in a decent position, and with the retention of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and pride on the line, it will be interesting to see how the bowlers respond to dismissing the second half of the Australian line up. India are yet to take 20 wickets in a Test this series, and Australia have capitalised on that. With the match evenly poised, India’s main concern will be the inability of Ishant Sharma to strike at regular intervals.