Australia’s talisman Steve Smith fell for his first Test duck in over four years as India dismissed the hosts for 195 on day one of the Boxing Day Test.
Smith was removed by off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin to leave Australia 38-3 before Marnus Labuschagne (48) and Travis Head (38) steadied the innings.
But Jasprit Bumrah’s superb 4-56 led to Australia losing their last seven wickets for just 71 runs in Melbourne.
India endured a hostile spell to end the day on 36-1, trailing by 159 runs.
The tourists are 1-0 down in the series after a crushing eight-wicket defeat in the first Test, during which they were bowled out for just 36 in the second innings.
India, without regular captain Virat Kohli, still face a tough ask to overhaul Australia’s total on a testing Melbourne Cricket Ground pitch, but they will be bolstered by an impressive start as they seek to level the four-Test series.
Ashwin v Smith heats up
Smith edged Ashwin to slip for one in the first innings of the first Test and Ajinkya Rahane, leading India because Kohli has returned home for the birth of his first child, quickly turned to Ashwin once Smith arrived at the crease.
This time, the Australian nudged Ashwin round the corner to leg slip after only eight balls to fall for his first duck since the first Test against South Africa at Perth in November 2016.
Any analysis of Smith’s record shows the supremely talented batsman has very few weaknesses, but the canny Ashwin drew him into an awkward shot by sending down one of his slowest deliveries of the day.
“The Ashwin versus Smith battle is fascinating in this series and right now it’s 2-0 to Ashwin,” said former Australia bowler Dirk Nannes on ABC Grandstand on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra.
On a pitch offering notable turn on day one, Ashwin also removed opener Matthew Wade, who lofted a rash shot to Ravindra Jadeja to fall for 30, before captain Tim Paine was also caught round the corner for 13.
Paine added only seven runs after he was given not out by the third umpire on a tight run out call in which it was unclear whether any part of his bat was grounded behind the line.
India may have to bat last on a challenging surface, but if Ashwin continues to cause problems to Australia’s key batsmen in their second innings, the tourists have a strong chance of levelling this enthralling series.
Seam, swing and spin
After Australia won the toss and elected to bat, India fast bowler Bumrah impressively exploited the seam and swing movement on offer to ensure the hosts were unable to fully recover from their poor start.
Having had opener Joe Burns caught behind for a duck, Bumrah had the seemingly settled Head caught brilliantly at gully by Rahane, before helping to clear up the tail by removing Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon.
Debutant pace bowler Mohammed Siraj backed up Bumrah superbly by taking the crucial wicket of Labuschagne and trapping all-rounder Cameron Green lbw.
With 30,000 socially distanced fans making a noise comparable to a sellout crowd at the 100,000 capacity stadium, Australia fast bowlers Starc and Pat Cummins roared in during a thrilling finale.
Left-arm quick Starc bowled an immaculate opening over, tormenting Mayank Agarwal with brutal inswinging yorkers before the final ball snared the India opener lbw for a duck.
Fellow opener Shubman Gill, making his Test debut, was dropped on four by Labuschagne off Cummins but held firm and started to play some sumptuous strokes to end on 28 not out, with Cheteshwar Pujara unbeaten on seven.
‘The day belongs to India’ – reaction
Australia batsman Marnus Labuschagne: “We hung in there, me and Head had a good partnership and we were close to breaking the back but then we had two innocuous dismissals and that’s a bit disappointing.
“It’s hard to tell you what a par score is out there – the first hour tomorrow is massive.”
Former Australia leg-spinner Kristen Beams: “The belonged to India. It should’ve been a good day for batting – Australia’s batsmen got start but no one was able to dig in and go on.
“Ashwin and India’s quicks made it a very fine all-round bowling performance.”
Former Australia fast bowler Dirk Nannes: “A wonderful day of Test cricket and an arm wrestle throughout.
“Australia are behind in this game but if they bowl as well as they did in the first Test and as well as they started here then it’s game on.”