Third Test, Melbourne: Day 3. India resumed 1/108, trailing by 422. Stumps: India 8-462 (Kohli 169, Rahane 147; Harris 4-69, Lyon 2-108). Australia lead by 68.
One of the features of Steven Smith’s captaincy across the six whole days of his reign, up until the start of the day’s play, has been his evident willingness to attack at any given opportunity.
When he’s batting, this is obvious, and with the possible exception of New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum, there may be no other Test batsman in better form.
It’s also been abundantly clear in the field, where Smith and his bowlers have deployed attacking fields, and bowled well to them.
The measure of good captains is how they react when things aren’t going their way on slow days in the field. It’s significantly easier to lead teams with their tail up, as has generally been the case.
It was the case for most of Ricky Ponting’s captaincy, too. As generational change began after the retirements of the Warnes and McGraths and co, Ponting’s Australian sides rather unsurprisingly often found the going tough.
By the time Ponting stood down, after the 2010-11 Ashes series loss, he was being roundly criticised for his rapid retreat in the field as opposing batsmen gained the upper hand. It was a criticism of former England skipper Andrew Strauss, and Alastair Cook now as well.
Indeed, we’ve seen some absolutely baffling field settings from MS Dhoni in this series, to the point where Ian Chappell was heard to say in commentary that it was “the worst captaincy I’ve ever seen”.
Smith is long way off Dhoni’s wacky inventiveness just yet, but it’s fair to say that the large middle part of day three didn’t quite go as well as planned.
After Ryan Harris removed Cheteshwar Pujara to Brad Haddin’s stunning catch off the second ball of the day, and Murali Vijay fell trying to cut far too close to the stumps, Smith must have been thinking he was in for another good day.
But from drinks in the morning session until nearly an hour into the evening session, it became all about Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli testing Steven Smith like he hasn’t been tested before.
Everything he tried for the best part of four hours played into the hands of two batsmen in supreme form. Attacking fields, fielders spread, short spells, longer spells, regular interludes of Nathan Lyon. Shane Watson was again economical, but after breaking the morning partnership, he wasn’t able to break through when his captain needed him.
Along the way, Kohli had as much fun racing Rahane to a hundred as he did in his running battle with Mitchell Johnson. Kohli lost the race with Rahane, but he certainly had the better of the big Australian quick, and just prior to losing his wicket off the final ball of the day, he was smashing Johnson for fun and blowing kisses because he could.
Just as Dhoni suffered from poor fielding efforts and lapses of concentration of his players, so did Smith wear the indignity of catches going to ground that really shouldn’t have. First Lyon dropped an absolute soda of a caught-and-bowled of Rahane, and then Watson put Kohli down at first slip.
Twelth man Peter Siddle would later grass debutant Lokesh Rahul, too, among others, but by then, Australia had already cost themselves more than 150 runs. If Smith didn’t have a nail-chewing habit before the day’s play, surely he did by the time the innings was finally broken.
And then, just as it seemed Smith was finally going to have a losing day in this series after Rahane and Kohli added 262 for the 4th wicket, Lyon and Harris stepped up and took two wickets each. India lost 4-25 initially, and 5-51 when Kohli went to another outrageous Haddin catch, off what would be the last ball of the day.
Tested for two-thirds of the day, everything has come up Steve Smith again, and Australia goes into day four in a strong position.