India began the Melbourne test with a bang but failed to consolidate later. There was lot of enthusiasm all around for the Boxing Day match at MCG, where Steve Smith won the toss for Australia and decided to bat. Both teams had made two changes in their line-ups. KL Rahul replaced Rohit Sharma, while Mohammad Shami came in for Varun Aaron. Australia also made two changes with Joe Burns coming in for Mitchell Starc and Ryan Harris for Mitchell Marsh. Rahul and Burns were to don new test caps, being debutants on either side. Rohit Sharma had to suffer the ignominy of being dropped thrice in 9 tests and it must have been quite hard on him. Although India claimed David Warner early, Chris Rogers and Shane Watson settled down to deny India any more luxury so soon. Both batsmen had some awkward moments, but they overcame the initial discomfiture and made useful contributions that helped Australia end the day at 259/5. Shami looked an improved bowler and some of his deliveries whizzed past the Australians at close to 140 kph. Ishant Sharma also bowled well in initial overs but India’s bowling returned to its ineffective phase soon until they struck again in the 37th and 38th overs to claim Rogers and Watson at the same score. At the day ended, Australia found its rhythm with skipper Smith in-charge.
After the toss, David Warner and Chris Rogers jogged up to the crease. Rogers faced the opening over from Ishant Sharma and all his six balls kept Rogers guessing. Umesh Yadav was next and he tested Warner with his pace and length. After 5 balls produced no runs, Warner wanted to jab the sixth without moving his feet. That was not a very intelligent move as he got the touch and the ball flew to the cordon, where Shikhar Dhawan brought off a nice catch. This was as Indian would go in the initial overs. As usual, they celebrated the fall of Warner but failed to put up the pressure. The new man, Shane Watson was watchful though he had a few difficult balls coming to him. The Australians couldn’t get a single run on the board in the first three overs. The first ball of the fourth over produced a bye because Dhoni failed to collect cleanly and four more runs in two balls without much conviction from Rogers. It was here that India failed to apply pressure. And once they allowed Australia to score freely, Rogers and Watson found time to settle down. Dhoni made his first bowling change in 9th over, when Sharma was replaced with Mohammad Shami. But Rogers gained in confidence by hitting two boundaries to Shami. Then another 9 runs came of the next over from Umesh Yadav. Now it was okay for the seasoned Australian batsmen as they continued scoring steadily. These two added 115 for the second wicket and looked far more comfortable than when they began. In between Dhoni tried Ashwin but the spinner failed to make any impression on the batsmen. Australia went to lunch at 92/1.
After lunch, Ishant Sharma began with a maiden over. But Yadav yielded 8 off the next and by the 33rd over, both Rogers and Watson reached their fifties and looked good for more. Shami bowled the 37th over and off his second delivery he claimed Rogers with a beautiful ball by extracting an outside edge for Dhoni to hold a well-judged catch. In the second ball of the next over from R Ashwin, Watson went for a leg-side sweep off a straighter ball and succumbed to a leg-before decision. Yet again, India’s bowlers failed to mount pressure as skipper Smith and Shaun Marsh kept their heads down and batted cautiously. Australia didn’t mind the slow-down in scoring if the wickets could be kept intact. In between, Indian bowlers lost their patience and allowed some scoring strokes and such liberty lifted Australia’s confidence and they began scoring freely yet again. But on the last ball of the 61st over, Shami extracted an outer edge from Marsh and Dhoni obligingly held the catch to make it 184/4 for Australia. The fall of Shaun Marsh brought out the new test cap Joe Burns. The debutant settled down with his captain and played with patience. In the 66th over bowled by Ashwin, Burns scored his first test-match boundary. But when he had reached 13, Burns went for a pull off a ball from Yadav to yield a bottom edge to Dhoni. Australia were now down to 216/5. Lot of time remained in the day but India’s bowlers frittered away the early advantage and eased the pressure. Smith had Haddin as company and the two saw the day for the Aussies as they finished with 295/5.
Despite early blows, Smith stood like a rock unbeaten on 72 as the day ended. He has Brad Haddin with him, who is prepared to play along in honoring the wishes of his captain. Unless India’s bowlers find something new on second day, Australia may snatch an upper hand and afterwards, it will be difficult for India to bounce back into the match.