Test for the ages develops amid times most testing

Just quietly, one of the epic Test cricket series is developing between Australia and India. World events and crowd limits will deprive it of the atmosphere generated during, say, the 2019 Ashes, but even if their noise is filtered through masks, Test cricket lovers are gurgling with satisfaction.

For a ninth straight day, the balance remained unresolved. Session by session and even hour by hour, just when the advantage swung one way, it snapped back the other. When Steve Smith was forging a marvellous century, his first in Australia since 2017 and his first in his home city since 2015, there was an underlying tidal change towards India. At the moment Smith and Marnus Labuschagne had seemed to cement a definitive Australian bridgehead, the whole thing fell in a heap. The majority of Smith’s innings, as supreme as it was, took place in the guise of a rearguard action.

Steve Smith's innings was the usual mix of the orthodox and the unorthodox.

Steve Smith’s innings was the usual mix of the orthodox and the unorthodox.Credit:AP

The visitors, coming out to chase a total 100 runs shy of dominance, seemed to be getting on top when Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma blunted the new ball. But the stylishness and timing of the Indian openers’ strokeplay obscured the grimness of the struggle.

Australia clung like a terrier to their elegant cuffs. For every glorious boundary there were 20 balls that had to be kept out with the most watchful defence. And then, just as the attritional grind seemed to be wearing down the Australians, Josh Hazlewood picked up Sharma with a return catch, Patrick Cummins had Gill taken smartly in the cordon, and Nathan Lyon produced one of his best spells, a constant threat to India’s two big guns – who now remain at the crease, ready to seize back the initiative this morning.

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