The showdown between skippers Steve Smith and Virat Kohli was billed as the battle that will all but decide Australia’s bid for a boilover in India.
It’s far too early to suggest Australia will record the nation’s second Test series win in India since 1970, but Smith’s century in Pune helped them record the nation’s first Test win in India since 2004.
Smith posted his 10th – and arguably most important – Test ton as captain of Australia on day three of the absorbing contest.
Former Australian captain Michael Clarke regarded it as “as good a Test hundred” as any of the 18 that Smith has celebrated.
“It’s got to be right up there,” he said.
“It took a lot of grit … it was great to get such a big lead and give our bowlers plenty to bowl at.”
Clarke suggested his successor’s knock was very important in the context of “not only this Test but the series”.
“No matter what conditions are or where he is in the world, he adapts and finds a way,” Clarke said on Star Sports.
“Australia are in an extremely dominant position because of that innings.”
India’s sloppy fielding also helped. Kohli struggled to contain his rage as Smith was dropped on 23, 29, 37 and 67. Jayant Yadav missed a chance to run the skipper out on 60.
“He was getting a little bit angry at fielders for dropping catches,” Smith said.
Kohli and his teammates also straddled the line of dissent after a couple of confident appeals were turned down, including when Smith should have been given out lbw on 73.
The Decision Review System (DRS) is being used but Kohli, who has a history of on-field verbal spats with Smith, had already unsuccessfully used both referrals.
It capped a poor couple of days for Kohli, who was dismissed for his first Test duck at home and criticised by locals for taking the second new ball on day one when Mitchell Starc was teeing off.
The loss was Kohli’s first at home as captain.
Smith’s tenure as skipper started in the absence of an injured Clarke, when he tallied four hundreds and 769 runs at 128.16 against India in 2014/15.
The 27-year-old, who has matured since becoming the nation’s youngest Test captain since Kim Hughes, has produced higher scores and far better looking innings than his milestone in Pune.
But he has rarely had to fight so hard for every run. Smith was in his element as he hammered home Australia’s advantage on a spinner’s paradise produced with the world’s two best bowlers in mind.
Star spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja both had their moments against the classy right-hander, with the latter finally dismissing him after 260 minutes at the crease.