Kolkata: It was yet another example of Steve Smith alternating between the ridiculous and the sublime. A sequence of scores of 1,1,0,8 in the Test series against India so far was followed by a masterly 131 by the former Australian skipper on the second day of the third Test at Sydney on Friday - underlining why he is owner of the best average in this format of the game today.
Smith now has scored eight Test hundreds against India in just 25 innings, and in the bargain joined a pantheon of greats who has the same number of three figure knocks against the same opposition. Gary Sobers (30 innings), Vivian Richards (41) and Ricky Ponting (51) also had scored eight centuries against India.
There was also some fodder for those who love the debate of ‘greatest Test batsman’ in the modern era as Smith now has the same number of centuries as Virat Kohli - 27. With his Friday’s inning, Smith also ended Australia’s nearly four-year drought of centuries against India. The 31-year-old was, in fact, the last Australian to score a hundred for his country against India back in 2017 when he made 111 in the first innings of the Dharamsala Test.
However, the Australian camp would still possibly rue the batting collpase - which saw them lose eight wickets for 130 runs to be all out for 338. Ravindra Jadeja, who seems to be on a mission to rediscover himself in this series as an allrounder, returned with a haul of four for 62 and completing a spectacular run out to dismiss Smith and end the innings.
India, in reply, made a solid start to their innings reaching 70 without loss before Australia’s pace attack responded by removing both openers in the final session. Young Shubhman Gill, who missed out on what could have been a well-deserved half-century on debut at Melbourne, reached the landmark here - impressing with his patience and shot selection once again.
At stumps, captain Ajinkya Rahane was unbeaten on five with Cheteshwar Pujara on nine, trailing Australia by 242 runs with eight first-innings wickets remaining.
Having resumed the day at 166-2, Australia was well-placed to take a stranglehold on the match after they had won the toss and elected to bat. Marnus Labuschagne made 91 off 196 balls, and shared a century stand with Smith to see Australia past 200 runs for the first time in five innings this series, before he edged the impressive Jadeja to Rahane at slip with Australia at 206-3.
Jadeja then had Matthew Wade (13) playing a poor shot to be caught in the deep, before Jasprit Bumrah (2-66) trapped Cameron Green lbw with the last ball before lunch.
After lunch, captain Tim Paine (1) and Pat Cummins (0) were both bowled cheaply leaving Australia at 278-7.
Smith then reached his 27th hundred in 76 Tests with a leg glance for three runs off Navdeep Saini in the 98th over. The former captain was far more effusive in his celebration than usual reflecting the relief at having scored his first century in 15 innings spanning four series.
Smith’s eighth 100 against India came in 259 minutes off 201 balls, with 13 boundaries, and was the first against India in a home test since David Warner’s quickfire century at the SCG in 2015.
Australia (1st innings)
Overnight 166 for two
M. Labuschagne c Rahane b Jadeja 91
S. Smith Run Out Jadeja 131
M. Wade c Bumrah b Jadeja 13
C. Green lbw Bumrah 0
T. Paine b Bumrah 1
P. Cummins b Jadeja 0
M. Starc c Gill b Saini 24
N. Lyon lbw Jadeja 0
J. Hazlewood Not Out 1
Extras 4b 0lb 5nb 0pen 1w 10
Total (105.4 overs) 338 all out
Fall of Wickets : 3-206 Labuschagne, 4-232 Wade, 5-249 Green, 6-255 Paine, 7-278 Cummins, 8-310 Starc, 9-315 Lyon, 10-338 Smith
Bowling: Bumrah 25.4 7 66 2; Siraj 25 4 67 1; Ashwin 24 1 74 0: Saini 13 0 65 2; Jadeja 18 3 62 4 .
India (1st innings)
Rohit Sharma c& b Hazlewood 26
Shubman Gill c Green b Cummins 50
C. Pujara Not Out 9
A. Rahane Not Out 5
Extras 0b 0lb 1nb 0pen 5w 6
Total (45.0 overs) 96-2
Fall of Wickets : 1-70 Sharma, 2-85 Gill
Bowling: Starc 7 4 19 0; Hazlewood 10 5 23 1; Cummins 12 6 19 1; Lyon 16 7 35 0.