A gritty 48 from Marnus Labuschagne kept Australia alive in the second Test Saturday against a fired-up India who went to tea in charge after some fine bowling on a riveting opening day in Melbourne.
Batting after captain Tim Paine won the toss, the hosts were 136 for five at the break in front of some 30,000 socially-distanced fans, the maximum allowed at the 100,000-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Cameron Green was on six and Paine had yet to score after some top-notch bowling led by Jasprit Bumrah (2-24) and Ravi Ashwin (2-25) on a wicket offering turn and bounce.
After their horror show in the first Test at Adelaide, where they lost by eight wickets and were skittled for 36 in their second innings, India were desperate to start well in Melbourne.
And with Ajinkya Rahane captaining the side in place of Virat Kohli, who has returned home for the birth of his first child, they did just that with the wickets of Joe Burns (0) Matthew Wade (30) and Steve Smith (0) before lunch.
It left Australia in big trouble but Labuschagne rode his luck, surviving two review decisions, to lead the recovery, putting on 86 with Travis Head (38) to steady the ship.
After going to lunch at 65 for three, the runs began flowing more freely in the second session when debutant Mohammed Siraj was brought into the attack.
Head had a nervous start but settled down and grew in confidence, hitting four boundaries before Bumrah enticed an edge which carried to Rahane at gully.
Labuschagne looked set for a ninth half-century but a brilliant catch by Shubman Gill, in the team for Prithvi Shaw, handed Siraj his first Test wicket and left Australia on the back foot once again.
With David Warner still injured, the hosts went into the clash unchanged, with Burns opening alongside Wade.
Burns hit an unbeaten 51 in Adelaide to relive some pressure after a long lean spell, but his performance Saturday will once more raise questions over his place in the team.
He looked tentative against Bumrah and played and missed several times before getting a nick to a delivery he should have left.
Rishabh Pant, back behind the stumps in place of Wriddhiman Saha, took the catch and Burns was gone without scoring.
At the other end, Wade had an escape on four when Gill narrowly missed a catch at slip.
He started finding the gaps before attempting a big hit off Ashwin, which proved his downfall for 30.
Ravindra Jadeja took the catch, but only just with Gill also underneath it. The pair collided but Jadeja managed to hang on to the ball.
Ashwin then claimed the crucial wicket of Smith, who was undone by an off-break with Cheteshwar Pujara holding a catch at slip after the world’s top batsman faced just eight balls.
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