Australia snapped up the key wickets of dogged Cheteshwar Pujara and dangerman Virat Kohli in quick succession Thursday to hand them a sliver of hope in the third Test against India.
The pair both fell soon after lunch in a major breakthrough for the home team on what had until then been a lifeless Melbourne pitch offering little for the bowlers.
At tea on day two, India were 346 for four with Ajinkya Rahane not out 30 and Rohit Sharma, returning from injury, on 13.
Pujara and Kohli had built an intimidating 170-run partnership after openers Hanuma Vihari and Mayank Agarwal fell on day one, and looked set to take the match out of Australia’s reach.
But Kohli, who had earlier seen the physio after appearing to hurt his back, was finally undone by pace spearhead Mitchell Starc.
The Indian run-machine had hit a four and was attempting another the next ball when he upper cut it to third man Aaron Finch who took an easy catch to dismiss him for a patient 82 off 204 balls.
It deprived Kohli of a 26th Test century and the chance to surpass boyhood hero Sachin Tendulkar by making a seventh hundred in Australia. They remain tied on six each.
A stoic Pujara had been unflappable in his 319-ball innings until Pat Cummins sent down a rocket that stayed low, breaching his defence and clattering into the stumps.
He had been smashed on the hand not long before and needed attention.
Pujara, who has scored more runs and faced more balls than any other batsman in the series, added only three to his lunch score of 103, but it was another tremendous knock by a man who has now scored 17 Test tons and two in this series.
The pair have been their team’s best batsmen by far during the series and until their wickets fell, it had been an arduous day for Australia’s bowlers in hot conditions.
They have further work ahead with the experienced Rahane and Sharma both looking in good touch.
The flat track in Melbourne follows much livelier pitches in Adelaide and Perth which produced results.
Last year’s Boxing Day Test saw a dull Ashes draw with England that prompted the match referee to grade the pitch “poor” and there was hope for more life in it this time round.
Cricket Australia chief executive Kevin Roberts said the pitch would only be fully judged after the Test finishes, but conceded it needed a revamp.
“We need a sense of urgency in the regeneration of this wicket square,” he said.
The four-Test series is tied 1-1 after India won the opening clash in Adelaide by 31 runs and Australia drew level with a 146-run victory in Perth.