Steven Smith has been batting with total application and devotion to the cause ever since he took over the reins of leadership from Michael Clarke at Brisbane. He began with an inspiring century at the Gabba after India had posted 408 in the first innings and Australia were poorly placed at 247/6. After he ensured a robust lead, he led well on field to bowl India the second time that gave him an easy victory target of 128 on fourth day. In the second knock, he almost saw off Australia but for an unfortunate run-out dismissal. But after that his team required just 6 more runs. In two innings of his debut test as captain, Smith had already collected 161 runs. Yesterday at MCG, he added another 192 to make it 353 in three innings. But it is not his personal batting performance that is important. His knocks have had the telling effect on his team’s end results. We saw that at Brisbane and the chain of events are being played out all over again at Melbourne. Many critics thought that India began the day with honors even but they didn’t factor the presence of SPD Smith on the crease and what he could do with his bat. They conveniently forgot his second test rearguard assault after 6 wickets had been lost for less than 250. On MCG’s first day, Australia were in a far better condition than at Brisbane. On Saturday, he not only completed his century but refused to get out and his was the last wicket to fall. Australia piled up 530 and put India under pressure by taking Dhawan’s wicket. When India begin on day three, they will be more than 400 runs in arrears, thanks to SPD Smith!
With Smith and Haddin as overnight unbeaten batsmen, India’s first target was to break the stand that had already grown to 43 runs. But Indian bowlers couldn’t emulate their first-day morning’s performance and more was lost, when Mohammed Shami began to drop half-volleys and short-pitched balls. He allowed Chris Rogers and Shane Watson to grow in confidence and though he ended the first day with two wickets, his bowling looked a liability. On second day, Shami continued to be wayward and permitted a lot of rope. Haddin made merry with his skipper and kept going on and on. The sixth wicket stand swelled to 100+ and with Australia deciding not to gift their wickets away, it became a hard toil for India’s limited bowling arsenal. Suddenly, India lost their plan, as Dhoni continued with Shami, whose wayward approach affected the fielding as well. Meanwhile, Smith and Haddin continued to build Australia’s innings. Despite conceding 23 boundaries compared to Ishant’s and Yadav’s collective 19, Dhoni kept falling back on Shami. No team can apply pressure with such thoughtless bowling. Shami is the slowest of India’s three bowlers and an easy meat for the determined Australians. More than anything else, Shami needs a tough lesson on sustaining patience if he has to become test class. In any case, Australia’s sixth-wicket stand had produced 120 runs, when Haddin charged up to Shami and the bottom edge fell in Dhoni’s hands. Haddin made 55 and a couple of overs earlier, Steve Smith also completed his third century of the series. But he didn’t look like stopping. Yet again, Mitchell Johnson played a solid knock to add 50 with his captain for the seventh wicket. But the best support for Smith came from a totally unexpected quarter. Ryan Harris produced an innings of his life time making 74 off 88 balls and help add 112 for the eighth wicket. After the fall of Harris’ wicket, Smith continued with Nathan Lyon to add 48 more. The skipper was the last man out as Australia ended their innings at 530.
India’s opening batsmen Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan made a good start to put up 55 for the first wicket. However, in the 15th over, Dhawan was guilty of loosely hanging his bat to a short ball pitching away from the off stump. The ball rose and took the shoulder of Dhawan’s bat and Steve Smith held a nice low catch at the second slip. Cheteshwar Pujara joined Vijay and the two of them batted sensibly to see the day for India at 108/1. Vijay has been India’s most assured batsman in the series so far but as India wait for the third day, they have a tough job ahead of them. It is now up to the batsman to overhaul the remaining deficit of 422 runs, or else, the same sad story could repeat for them.