Indian BowlersOn the third day at the Gabba, MS Dhoni couldn’t contain the Australian middle order and conceded a vital 97 run lead to Steven Smith & Company. In his first test as captain, Smith scored a solid century and with his colleagues giving him admirable support, he played a pivotal role in taking Australia’s score to 505. There was little Indian bowlers could do against the Australians on the third day as they began at the overnight score of 221/4. Though Ishant Sharma and Varun Aaron succeeded in taking two early wickets for the addition of 26 to the overnight total, Steven Smith found Mitchell Johnson an able ally after that. While Smith went along steadily, it was Johnson, who frustrated the India bowlers with his fantastic stroke play. India’s bowlers tried everything they could but the unstoppable Johnson looked like headed for a century until a nick to Ishant Sharma ended his brave 88-run knock produced in just 93 balls. The 148-run seventh wicket partnership broke the back of Indian bowling and fielding. In between, Smith compiled a patient century and got additional help from Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon and new man Josh Hazlewood, all of whom came with useful tail-ending scores. Trailing the first innings by 97 runs, India lost Murali Vijay, when they batted the second time and finished the day at 71/1.

While new captain Steven Smith was expected to a dominant batting force against India, no one expected Mitchell Johnson to make such significant impact in Australia’s batting on the third day, as he forced himself to bat so boldly against all odds. In 1975, when Australia played against the mighty West Indies at Brisbane, Greg Chappell had scored a hundred in the role of a first-time captain. That was replicated by Steven Smith 39 years later on this ground, when, as first time skipper, he scored 133 against India today. His knock was precious both as batsman and the leader and it should make the Australian selectors vindicated in choosing him in place of Michael Clarke. But to build the innings, Smith needed someone to play with him at the crease. The day didn’t start with promise for Smith as the overnight batsman Mitchell Marsh was bowled by Ishant Sharma in a comic fashion. Sharma’s angled ball came to hit Marsh’s off-stump even as the batsman shouldered his arms in a defensive act. 15 runs later, Australia lost their sixth wicket, when Varun Aaron produced a bouncer and as Haddin tried to cover his face with his hands, he popped up a simple catch to Cheteshwar Pujara at short leg. Australia were 247/6, when Mitchell Johnson made his entry. After that it was toil all the way for the hapless Indian bowlers, who ran out of ideas as to how to deal with the dangerous Johnson. The batsman didn’t care about the quality of the ball and launched an assault that is usually seen in shorter formats of the game. He raced to his 50 in 37 balls even as Smith progressed from the overnight 65 to 96. But shortly afterwards, Smith reached his deserved century off 147 balls, when he sent Varun Aaron’s short ball to the point boundary. At lunch time, Australia had reached 351/6. The session began with a promise from India’s bowlers and finished with that promise gone haywire.

The batsmen carried on after lunch in the same way until Johnson and Smith both fell in the same over and in the same fashion to the bowling of Ishant Sharma. While Johnson nicked the angled ball to Dhoni, Smith got a similar ball, which he played on his stumps. Australia were 398/8 at that stage and just as everyone thought that the innings’ end was near, the reserve from Australia frustrated the Indian bowlers further. Mitchell Starc made 52 off 59 balls, Lyon scored 23 off 23 and the debutant Josh Hazlewood batted patiently to remain not out on 32 off 50. Australia went in front by 97 runs as India came on to bat for the second time.

When India batted, they began by losing Vijay in the 11th over. Mitchell Starc came up with an angling delivery that Vijay thought would miss the stumps. Instead, the ball took his off stumps as the batsman raised his bat. After that, Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara had some anxious moments together as they managed to survive some searching spells in the evening session. India ended the day at 71/1, still 26 runs in arrears on the first innings. The fourth day’s play will be crucial for India as they have to first wipe out the remaining deficit and bat sensibly to build on their lead. The Australians would look for striking early blows to obtain an upper hand in the test, taking heart from the sudden slide, they were able to cause on the second day, when India looked in a position of strength.