India’s go-slow approach on the first two days at the MCG has been rooted in the strong belief that this pitch will deteriorate.
Virat Kohli’s team’s mantra is to bat long and deep, build the innings, and wait for things to unfold.
Two dismissals on the second day of the third Test here on Thursday cost the side wickets but, looking at the bigger picture, must have gladdened Indian hearts.
Cheteshwar Pujara, after completing an assiduously compiled 17th Test hundred, was castled by a Pat Cummins delivery that kept low.
Then, Ajinkya Rahane fell leg-before to a Nathan Lyon delivery that hardly gained height after pitching.
Eventually, India declared at 443 for seven, after Rohit Sharma (63 not out) and Rishabh Pant (39) finally upped the tempo.
Feeling the pressure
Then, when the Australian openers batted, under immense pressure, a lifter from the deceptive Jasprit Bumrah struck Marcus Harris on the helmet.
Day three will be a test of character for the host.
Earlier, Cheteshwar Pujara’s 106 was the high point. His batsmanship is underlined by composure and patience.
Not the most attractive batsman, he gets the job done.
Offering stability at No. 3, if not enterprise and the ability to take control, Pujara keeps chipping away at the bowling.
It was a triumphant moment for Pujara when he off-drove Lyon to embrace a much-cherished MCG hundred. Typically, his 319-ball innings was one of commitment, sweat and toil.
Intelligent, if not flamboyant, Pujara makes subtle adjustments to his technique. On this surface of inconsistent bounce, the right-hander shortened his back-lift, got on to the front foot, unless the length was short, and displayed the broad face of his willow.
Along his cricketing journey, Pujara has constantly worked on his methods — his stance is more upright now and this enables him cope with the bounce of the pitches down under much better.
On the 2014-15 campaign, Pujara tended to crouch and had problems when the ball climbed.
Between periods of defence, Pujara essayed some productive strokes. He guided Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood through gully for boundaries, employed his feet against Lyon.
At the other end, the gifted Kohli struggled to find his batting rhythm. He received treatment for a sore back but continued to bat.
The nature of the surface — many deliveries did not come on to the bat — also hindered Kohli’s stroke-play. The India captain was content to bide his time and allow the surface to unravel.
Yet, there were flashes of brilliance from Kohli. His straight-drive off Hazlewood — marked by a high left elbow, balance and sublime timing — was an uplifting shot.
The 170-run association for the third wicket between Pujara and Kohli frustrated the Aussies. To make matters worse for the host, the first session failed to produce a wicket.
Kohli attempted to switch gears after lunch. He pulled Starc, picking the length ever so quickly. Moments later, he tried to dab a lifting delivery from the left-armer and was held at third man.
Kohli — 82 off 204 — had battled hard, but his dismissal was rather soft in nature.
Tough times for Lyon
In the last session, there was some purchase for Lyon. Shackled by the off-spinner, Rohit (on 15) top-edged a sweep but substitute Peter Siddle put down a sitter.
Rohit proceeded to play a few delicate shots, harnessing the pace of the bowlers, pulling Hazlewood, and off-driving Starc with ease, grace and flow.
Rahane, light of feet, sizzled briefly and then southpaw Rishabh Pant, after a cautious beginning, found his mojo, driving, hooking and clipping the bowlers. A straight-drive off Starc was a brutal blow.
Earlier, Pant was put down at long-on by Cummins off the luckless Lyon.
It was that kind of a day for Australia.
India — 1st innings
Hanuma Vihari c Finch b Cummins 8 (66b) , Mayank Agarwal c Paine b Cummins 76 (161b, 8x4, 1x6) , Cheteshwar Pujara b Cummins 106 (319b, 10x4) , Virat Kohli c Finch b Starc 82 (204b, 9x4) , Ajinkya Rahane lbw b Lyon 34 (76b, 2x4) , Rohit Sharma (not out) 63 (114b, 5x4) , Rishabh Pant c Khawaja b Starc 39 (76b, 3x4) , Ravindra Jadeja c Paine b Hazlewood 4 (3b, 1x4) ; Extras (b-15, lb-14, nb-1, w-1): 31. Total (for seven wkts. decl. in 169.4 overs): 443.
Fall of wickets
1-40 (Vihari, 18.5), 2-123 (Mayank, 54.5), 3-293 (Kohli, 122.5), 4-299 (Pujara, 125.4), 5-361 (Rahane, 148.6), 6-437 (Pant, 168.5), 7-443 (Jadeja, 169.4).
Starc 28-7-87-2, Hazlewood 31.4-10-86-1, Lyon 48-7-110-1, Cummins 34-10-72-3, Marsh 26-4-51-0, Finch 2-0-8-0.
Australia — 1ST innings
Marcus Harris (batting) 5 (13b) , Aaron Finch (batting) 3 (23b) . Total (for no loss in six overs): 8.
Ishant 2-1-2-0, Bumrah 3-1-6-0, Jadeja 1-1-0-0.