Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne in action against India during play on the first day of their fourth Test at The Gabba in Brisbane on Friday. Associated Press
A heavily-depleted India fought back in the final session of play on the opening day to leave the fourth Test against Australia evenly poised on a benign Gabba wicket in Brisbane on Friday.
Cameron Green was on 28 and Tim Paine alongside him on 38, as Australia finished the first day on 274 for five, thus putting the home side marginally in front.
While India just need to draw this Test to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy as the four-match series is locked at 1-1, Australia need to win to once again lay their hands on the prize.
They looked certain to be in a much stronger position when they reached 200 for three shortly after tea, with Marnus Labuschagne and Matthew Wade scoring freely. But they lost Wade (45) to a rash attempted pull shot then Labuschagne for a superb 108 in the space of 13 runs to leave them at 213 for five, before Green and Paine steadied the innings against a tiring attack.
India’s efforts were especially admirable considering they were fielding two debutants in their bowling attack following injuries to Jasprit Bumrah and Ravi Ashwin. They also lost fast bowler Navdeep Saini to a groin injury midway through the second session. Labuschagne said despite missing so many frontline bowlers, the Indian attack was still potent.
“When you are playing really good teams, it doesn’t matter who comes in -- everyone in that line-up is very disciplined,” he said.
“They understand their role. They’re very strong bowlers.
“I was disappointed today not to make a really big hundred but like I said, the Indian bowling was very disciplined, very strategic.”
PERFECT START FOR INDIA: India started the game as underdogs following the loss of four players from the drawn third Test, which finished on Monday in Sydney.
Pace spearhead Bumrah (abdomen), off-spinner Ashwin (back), batsman Hanuma Vihari (hamstring) and all-rounder Ravi Jadeja (broken thumb) were all ruled out. T Natarajan and Sundar made their debuts while there were also recalls for batsman Mayank Agarwal and seam bowler Shardul Thakur.
By contrast, Australia only made one change, with Harris coming in for Will Pucovski, who injured his shoulder while fielding in Sydney.
Yet India got away to the perfect start when David Warner fell on the last ball of the first over, edging Siraj to second slip, where Rohit Sharma took a superb catch diving to his right.
Natarajan shared the new ball with Siraj and kept the pressure on with some tight bowling, his opening spell of six overs going for just eight runs.
The pressure eventually told when Thakur, playing just his second Test, struck with his first ball, Harris chipping a simple catch to Sundar at square leg to leave Australia 17 for two.
But Labuschagne and Steve Smith, Australia’s saviours in so many recent matches, once again steadied the rocking ship. Smith was impressive but on 36 he clipped a ball to short midwicket to Sharma to give Sundar his first Test scalp.
“It’s amazing for me -- it’s a dream come true for me,” Sundar said.
“It’s a big honour to represent your country in the first place. Test cricket is an amazing opportunity.
“My first wicket will be treasured.”
Australia should have lost Labuschagne in the next over when he edged Saini to gully, but the normally reliable Ajinkya Rahane spilled a simple chance. To make matters worse, Saini appeared to injure his groin in the delivery stride and left the field.
Cheteshwar Pujara grassed a much harder chance when Labuschagne was on 48, but from that moment the Queenslander was in fine form, stroking nine boundaries and two all-run fours on his way to his century. Siraj was the pick of the Indian attack with 1-51 off 19 testing overs, while Natarajan (2-63) also impressed despite showing signs of fatigue late in the day.
Australia 1st innings
D Warner c Sharma b Siraj 1
M Harris c Sundar b Thakur 5
Labuschagne c Pant b Natarajan108
S Smith c Sharma b Sundar 36
M Wade c Thakur b Natarajan 45
C Green not out 28
T Paine not out 38
Extras (b4, lb4, nb5) 13
Total (for five wickets) 274
To bat: P Cummins, M Starc, N Lyon, J Hazlewood
Bowling: Siraj 19-8-51-1, Natarajan 20-2-63-2 (5nb), Thakur 18-5-67-1, Saini 7.5-2-21-0, Sundar 22-4-63-1, Sharma 0.1-0-1-0
India: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (capt), Mayank Agarwal, Rishabh Pant, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini, Mohammad Siraj, T Natarajan
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