Australian openers survived the early jitters to post 8/0 at stumps on Day 2 of the third Test after India declared their first innings at a mammoth 443/7 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) here on Thursday.
Aaron Finch (3 batting) and Marcus Harris (5 batting) went back unscathed after the Indian new ball duo of Ishant Shamra and Jasprit Bumrah bowled some hostile stuff to spice things up for an exciting contest on Day 3. Earlier, India's massive total was powered by a classic century from Cheteshwar Pujara (106) and excellent half centuries from skipper Virat Kohli (82), debutant opener Mayank Agarwal (76) and Rohit Sharma (63 not out).
To add to Australia's woes, Indian Vice Captain Ajinkya Rahane (34) and stumper Rishabh Pant (39) also got decent starts and more importantly, were engaged in crucial partnerships with Rohit. Resuming the final session at 346/4, India lost Rahane quickly to his old nemesis, Nathan Lyon, who sweated for 40 overs to get that one wicket in India's first essay.
Interestingly, this was the ninth occasion Rahane fell to Lyon, making it the most number of times the tweaker has dismissed any player. Australia could have had Rohit dismissed even before Rahane's departure if only substitute fielder Peter Siddle had not dropped a sitter at backward square leg off Lyon and on the very next ball Travis Head made a mess of a catch, when the Mumbai right-hander was on 15.
Rohit, who by now had added 62 runs for the fifth wicket with his Mumbai teammate Rahane, took full advantage of the two lives to not only get to a crafty half century but also add another vital 76-run stand with Pant for the sixth wicket. Pant looked in fine touch but inexperience overpowered the southpaw as he succumbed to pacer Mitchell Starc once the third new ball was taken.
New man Ravindra Jadeja hardly got his eyes in before being caught behind, even as Kohli signalled the declaration of the tourists' first innings, leaving almost 6-7 overs for Australia to bat. Earlier, resuming the second day at 215/2, Kohli and Pujara played out a wicketless first session, scoring 62 runs to take it to 277/2 at lunch.
After coming back, Kohli (82) made his intentions clear and went after the Australian bowlers until he jarred his back while playing a pull shot against Starc. The back continued to trouble the India skipper, who eventually fell playing an uppercut off Starc to be caught comfortably by Finch at third man. Interestingly, this is the first time Kohli has not reached three figures after reaching 50 in first innings in Tests in Australia.
Two overs after Kohli's departure, Pat Cummins, the sole wicket-taker on the opening day, doubled the joy for the hosts with a fuller delivery that ended Pujara's 319-ball marathon innings. Pujara was undone by a ball that stayed too low and crashed into his stumps, once again underlying the confusing nature of the pitch at the MCG here.
For the Aussies, pacer Pat Cummins emerged the hero with the cherry, returning with figures of 3/72 on a docile MCG track while Mitchell Starc contributed well with two wickets. Josh Hazlewood and the lone spinner Nathan Lyon worked hard for their one wicket apiece.
Australia (first innings): 8/0 (Marcus Harris 5 batting, Aaron Finch 3 batting) vs India (first innings): 443/7 (Cheteshwar Pujara 106, Virat Kohli 82, Mayank Agarwal 76, Rohit Sharma 63 not out; Pat Cummins 3/72).