DHARAMSALA : This series has already taken plenty of twists and turns, so it's almost impossible to predict which way the Border-Gavaskar Trophy will be heading. While Kuldeep Yadav added a new spin to the series, Steve Smith do so too during his 173-ball stay to carve his third century of the tour, making him the first batsman to cross 400 runs this series.
From the moment he came in after the fall of Matt Renshaw in the second over, Smith walked the talk in the company of David Warner as Australia got eight boundaries in the first hour of play. The assault continued till lunch as when they walked off at 131 for one.
While the rest of the batsmen, apart from Warner and Matthew Wade who contributed with useful fifties, failed to cash in on a golden opportunity, Smith milked runs the way only he can. His habit of walking across the bat not only irks bowlers, it also disrupts their rhythm. Indians have been found wanting against him in eight Test matches overall, with him accruing seven centuries.
In Ranchi, India tried bowling way outside off-stump to limit his movement in the crease but Smith never bothered to play them. And here on Saturday, India’s new ball bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar — replacing Ishant Sharma — and Umesh Yadav explored the idea of bowling around the stumps but Smith used that to his advantage. Whenever they landed it on the leg and middle, he flicked it and if they bowled full around the off-stump, he brought his cover-drives into good effect as boundaries kept coming thick and fast.
While most others struggled to get going against the spinners, Smith had no real qualms about using his feet, smothering the turn and sending the ball to mid-wicket ropes.
With this habit of his, Smith made Ashwin bowl short and used the large open spaces on the off-side to fetch runs. “He is batting on another planet. You look at the scoreboard and he's on fifty at that moment, it looks that easy for him,” Wade said of his captain’s knock.
In the post-lunch session where Australia lost five wickets for 77 runs, Smith was the only one who was trying to instil some confidence. Unlike the rest, he was picking Kuldeep’s variations and had to slow down with wickets falling at the other end.
When Ajinkya Rahane took Kuldeep off the attack, Smith had 10 minutes to take Australia home without further damage and with Ashwin not even looking like taking a wicket, he probably took him for granted. For someone who has middled almost every ball he faced, this harmless delivery bowled from around the stumps should have been defended easily of front-foot, but for some reason, he pushed it hard from the crease and the edge — yes his bat has edges — ended up in the hands of Rahane at slip.
The curse of the unlucky Nelson.