India vs Australia: Steve Smith and Co need to bat Day 3 out to push hosts out of contention
Steve Smith brought up his 21st Test fifty on Day 2, as Australia stretched their lead to a daunting 298 at the end of the day's play.
When members of the Indian team walked out to the field at Pune's MCA Stadium at the start of Day 2 of the 1st Test against Australia, they were upbeat about the fact that they had managed to restrict Australia to a manageable total just above the 250-run mark. After getting rid of Mitchell Starc, who stuck out like a thorn on the previous day with a quickfire half-century, they walked back to their dressing room in an upbeat state of mind, with the idea of gaining a first innings lead playing on their minds.
The situation could not have been more different at stumps on the second day. A certain Steve O'Keefe etched his name in the annals of Australian cricket, using the unpredictability in the MCA pitch to record figures of 6/35. Those figures meant a spectacular Indian collapse, with the hosts crumbling to an embarrassing 105. Despite picking a couple of early wickets, they were unable to restrict the visitors in the latter's second essay.
As if their brain fade in their innings was not enough, the Indians were responsible for a number of dropped catches (including three off visiting captain Steve Smith, the first with him on 23) as well as some mindless reviews. It was as if Virat Kohli and teammates had lost steam by now after posting one dominant win after another this season.
There were some unique numbers from the day's play as well. India's total of 105 was their second-lowest on home soil against Australia, right behind 104 in the 2004-05 series. Kohli was dismissed for a duck for the first time since the disastrous tour of England in 2014, when he edged an attempted cover drive off a wide Starc delivery to the slips. It is safe to say that the statisticians were kept busy throughout the day's play.
With the kind of grip that they have on the proceedings at the moment, having stretched their lead to 298 with six wickets and three days in hand, Smith will look to bat throughout the day with a sense of calm, hoping to convert his 21st Test fifty into his 18th Test ton. With the pitch set to get worse on Day 3, his partners could face some issues with the turn and bounce.
However, frustrating the hosts enough with a patient demeanour could induce the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja into committing more errors on the third day. Even in the worst outcome of a collapse, Australia's lead is imposing enough for the pitch. All the bowlers need to do thereafter will be getting a couple of quick wickets.
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