Honours were shared on a see-sawing first day on the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, Australia grinding their way to 5/259 courtesy of a century stand by Chris Rogers and Shane Watson, and yet another rescue-mission innings by brilliant skipper Steve Smith.
India made a sizzling start to the hallowed clash after the hosts won the toss. Ishant Sharma rocked the first ball into Rogers’ box, before Umesh Yadav had David Warner out to a superb slips catch by Shikhar Dhawan at the end of the second over. Australia did not get off the mark until the fourth over – from a bye.
But Rogers and the out-of-form Watson dug in to put on 115, playing some classy shots along the way as both brought up half-centuries.
The momentum swung after Rogers (57) was out caught behind off Mohammed Shami. Watson was on his way for 52 in the following over, trapped lbw by Ravi Ashwin, who toiled wonderfully for 27 overs.
Shami removed Shaun Marsh for 32 and debutant Joe Burns became Yadav’s second victim, a bright start coming to an end on 13 as captain and wicketkeeper MS Dhoni took his third catch.
Steve Smith took it upon himself to anchor the innings, however, finishing the day on 72 not out, with veteran Brad Haddin – who desperately needs a decent score – unbeaten at the other end on 23.
Stud of the day
Smith’s marvellous series continued with a gritty knock that included four boundaries and a six, and again shapes as the key figure in Australia posting a solid total.
Haddin’s towering six late in the day signalled the under-pressure keeper’s possible return to form – a trademark big innings from the 37-year-old could prove to be a match-turner.
Australia’s run rate was a snail-paced 2.87, but as they proved in Brisbane, there’s more than enough lower-order class to push the hosts to a 400-plus total. India need to keep the pressure on, take a couple of early wickets and knock off Australia for around the 300 mark and settle in for a big day at the crease. If the tourists are still out in the field at tea, it could be too demoralising to recover from.
Dhoni took this 250th Test catch on the opening day – 50 of those victims have been Australians.
Around the world
In direct contrast to the big match at the ’G, New Zealand put on a spectacular show of batting to finish day 1 of the Test at Christchurch’s newly-opened Hagley Park at 7/429 – despite the tardy Sri Lankan tourists fitting in just 80.3 overs. The Black Caps’ rollicking 5.32 run rate was largely thanks to skipper Brendon McCullum, who added another remarkable chapter to his mind-blowing year of achievement.
After passing 1,000 runs for 2014 as he moved into the 30s, McCullum broke his own New Zealand Test record (78 balls) by bringing up his century in just 74 balls. He then put on the afterburners, hurtling his way to 195 off just 134 balls – a masterful knock including 18 fours and 11 sixes. McCullum was on the verge of smashing the all-time Test record held by compatriot Nathan Astle (152 balls) for fastest-ever double-century when he was caught in the deep off spinner Tharindu Kashaul, who went for 159 off 22 overs on debut – including 26 at the hands of McCullum in one sensational over. All-rounder Jimmy Neesham (85 off 80 balls) and Kane Williamson (54) aided the Black Caps’ stunning day 1 total.
The Black Caps blasted 45 fours and 14 sixes, compared to Australia’s 17 boundaries and two sixes across the ditch.