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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Smith, Johnson & tail take Australia to unexpected lead as India lose focus: T2D3

India  408 & 1/71 (23ov, Vijay 27, Dhawan 26*) trail Australia 505 (109.4ov, Smith 133/191b/2x6 13x4, Rogers 55, Starc 52/59b/6x4, Hazlewood 32*, S Marsh 32, Warner 29, Watson 25, Lyon 23, Yadav 3/101, I Sharma 3/117)  by 26 runs with 9 2nd inns wkts in hand: T2/4 D3/5 at Brisbane.

At 6/247, after losing two early wickets, Australia were in danger of a substantial first innings deficit. Not surprisingly, given his recent form, Steve Smith continued to rise to the occasion. More surprisingly perhaps Mitchell Johnson took the Indian attack apart in a 148 7th wicket partnership with Smith and brought Australia within comfortable reach of a first innings lead. Smith proceeded positively and methodically to his century (except for a little uncertainty as he neared it) and when he fell his team were only 10 runs shy of India's first innings total.

A first innings lead, any first innings lead, especially one obtained from such an unfavourable position, has a lot of psychological value. When Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon took Australia past 408 some salt was rubbed into India's wounds. Starc passed 50 and the lead extended to 97, with Josh Hazlewood showing that he knew a thing or two about batting. India looked increasingly forlorn.

They eventually took the 9th and 10th wickets and, batting again, made inroads into the deficit while only losing one wicket and regaining some composure.

The commentators who know the Gabba and Brisbane expect the wicket to begin breaking up on D4 and become worse on D5. Whether or not this happens after another unsatisfactorily slow day's play - only 80.4 overs were bowled - there may not be time for either side to force a result. In the absence of an India batting meltdown it is hard to see when, if at all, MS Dhoni might contemplate a declaration. With time slipping by any declaration would most likely have to offer a big carrot to induce Australia, with a new skipper obviously keen to start his tenure with a series victory, to chase a target of any size on a wearing pitch. But I have been wrong before about such matters....

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