Cheteshwar Pujara marks his 16th Test century with quiet celebrations. Photo: AP
India's start to the much-hyped series couldn't have gotten off to a worse start, with their batsmen competing for the wooden spoon for shot selection. Winning the toss came as an advantage for Virat Kohli but the batting, yet again, failed to come to terms with Australia's persistence.
Josh Hazlewood set the tone early with a probing first over which also resulted in KL Rahul edging a full, wide ball to third slip. With the template set, Australia's pacers continued to induce false drives that resulted in catches all across the cordon behind the wicket with the exception of first slip.
Murali Vijay was tested on both sides of the edge by Hazlewood, and by the short ball from Starc before finally falling through a soft drive. Kohli came in with similar intent, but that too yielded similar result. Cummins got a wicket in his first over with much credit to Usman Khawaja's stunning one-handed grab at gully. At 19/3 in the 11th over, the toss advantage had been nullified.
With the introduction of Nathan Lyon, Australia could have had a fourth straightaway with Rahane turning one to short leg. Peter Handscomb couldn't latch on to the sharp chance but that triggered a small one-upmanship battle between the two. Rahane would step out in the next over to loft Lyon for a six, and then continue to use his feet to unsettle the spinner.
Just when there was semblance of partnership building though, Australia struck back, again through Hazlewood and again through an inexplicable, loose drive from Rahane.
With some extra batting cushion with the inclusion of Rohit Sharma, India still had the depth to stage a comeback. And Rohit, along with Pujara, steadied the ship for a while, putting on 45. Rohit though was increasingly on the attack, hitting as many as three sixes in his 37. The last of which though came with Marcus Harris overbalancing beyond the ropes after taking the catch. But Rohit was not done with the intended attack against Lyon. He tried another loft off the next ball and skied a simpler catch to Harris.
Rishabh Pant's brief stay saw him play a mix of wild swings and watchful defence but he too fell, nicking a Lyon off-break for 25.
Through the flurry of wickets, Pujara remained steady at the other end, scoring an unbeaten 46 even as India slipped to what increasingly looks like a point of no return.
Brief Scores: India 143/6 (Cheteshwar Pujara 46*; Josh Hazlewood 2-28, Nathan Lyon 2-51) vs Australia