Smith, Maxwell lead Australia dominance
Australia 299 for 4 (Smith 117*, Maxwell 82*) v India
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Test hundred number 19, nine of them made overseas, was a measure of the quality Australia's captain Steven Smith has brought to Ranchi to give his team a chance of unseating India at home. Ball number 147, kept out by Glenn Maxwell in the day's final over, was a measure of the resolve he brought to his first Test innings in nearly three years.
Previously, the most deliveries Maxwell had faced in any international innings across all three formats was 98. By stumps, his new personal mark not only showed how much he had steeled himself to contribute alongside Smith, but also put Australia in a very strong position to dictate terms on what is comfortably the best pitch prepared for this Border-Gavaskar Trophy bout.
When Maxwell joined Smith, the day had hung rather more in the balance. Umesh Yadav was reversing the ball sharply, and the 28-year-old Victorian's propensity for batting brainstorms was recalled by many watching. Yet with Smith's counsel, Maxwell was able to avoid his usual rush, so much so that he waited until his 56th delivery to reach the boundary - this from a man whose most significant moment for Australia had been a World Cup hundred off 51 balls against Sri Lanka at the SCG in 2015.
What followed was a certain acceleration, but nothing too outlandish. The day's viral video moment was instead saved for Wriddhiman Saha's attempt to glove a Ravindra Jadeja ball lodged between Smith's padded legs, so desperate had India's search for a wicket become. The attempt proved fruitless, and Smith was soon toasting his century, and with Maxwell, walked off boasting a wicketless final session, an unbeaten stand of 159, and the promise of more to come.
Their concentration and discipline made for a contrast to some of the more wasteful dismissals seen earlier in the day, as the Australian top order failed to make the most of their starts. David Warner and Matt Renshaw would be particularly frustrated to have wasted starts on a surface that played far better than widely predicted.
Peter Handscomb also got established at the crease before being defeated by a fine inswinging yorker from Yadav, the most threatening member of India's bowling attack. Ishant Sharma had a couple of concerted lbw appeals denied, but R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja found far less assistance than they had seen in Pune and Bengaluru. Pointedly they missed Virat Kohli, who left the field for treatment after landing heavily on his right shoulder when trying to stop a boundary.
Ranchi's pitch played far better than appearances had suggested, meaning plenty more runs will be required. But at the very least, Smith and Maxwell have ensured something to bowl at for a team featuring another cricketer making a long-delayed return to the Australian Test team - the fast bowler Pat Cummins.
Kohli conceded the loss of a key toss before play began, and that seemed more so as Renshaw and Warner rattled to 50 in less than 10 overs by taking advantage of the pitch's even pace and a scorchingly fast outfield. Jadeja erred on the full side to Warner, but a full toss found the batsman in two minds about hitting square or straight, and the resultant return catch maintained his mediocre overseas record.
Renshaw had been finding gaps either side of the wicket and looked in full control, so it was a surprise when he fiddled in undisciplined fashion at Umesh and edged to Kohli at first slip. Umesh had created uncertainty by gaining some movement. Shaun Marsh was unable to get established, well caught at short leg by Cheteshwar Pujara off bat and pad, the decision made after India's successful DRS referral against Ian Gould's initial not-out verdict.
Handscomb's cover drive off his first ball to the fence underlined the improved batting conditions, and though Smith edged one reversing ball from Umesh to the fine leg boundary between his pads, shortly before lunch, he was otherwise certain in his methods and safe in his defence. Handscomb also looked capable of going on to something substantial, but for the fifth time in as many innings this series he was dismissed at a frustrating juncture, unable to get his bat to a Umesh yorker that swerved back sharply to strike him in front of the stumps.
Maxwell's likely approach had seemed a mystery to even his team-mates before this match, but he quickly showed an impressive level of composure to build his innings in Smith's slipstream while taking few risks. His only moment of nervousness came from the first ball of an Ishant spell that swung back into his pads, but India's decision referral was waved off when replays showed the bowler had overstepped.
In the evening session a steady stream of runs came with the occasional boundary, and Maxwell hammered a second six of his innings to go past 50 for the first time in a Test. Nothing affected Smith's deep concentration, not even a period of more than an hour spent in the 90s. As attentive, mature batting partners do, Maxwell took up much of the scoring slack during this episode. Like so much else in his innings, it came as a pleasant surprise.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig