By Tristan Lavalette
PERTH (Reuters) - Australia lost three key wickets to an improved India attack during a tough middle session on the opening day in the second test on Friday, as the Perth Stadium pitch came roaring to life after lunch.
A stuttering Australia reached tea at 145 for three with Shaun Marsh eight not out and Peter Handscomb unbeaten on four, the batsmen hanging on against some inspired bowling on the grassy, drop-in wicket.
Australia, 1-0 down in the series after losing the opener in Adelaide, were in a commanding position before Aaron Finch fell mid-session for 50 after sharing a 112-run opening partnership with Marcus Harris, who was later dismissed for 70.
Usman Khawaja, Australia's most accomplished batsman, was the second home batsman to fall, rashly cutting recalled quick Umesh Yadav in a desperate attempt to break the shackles after being tied down by the Indian bowlers.
He made an excruciating five off 38 balls with no boundaries to continue a run of low scores at the start of the four-match series after his return from injury.
Harris had a reprieve on 60 when second slip Lokesh Rahul dropped a tough chance but fell shortly later to a rising delivery from spin-bowling all-rounder Hanuma Vihari, steering the ball to first slip to end his 141-ball knock.
India's quicks had found their rhythm despite the oppressive conditions with the temperature reaching 39 degrees Celsius as the smattering of spectators mostly took refuge under the shelter of the stands.
Just after lunch, the pitch finally played some tricks with a short Mohammed Shami delivery to Harris barely bouncing off a dry patch.
Harris, unruffled, counterattacked and reached his maiden test half-century off 90 deliveries.
The tourists were playing without a frontline spinner for only the third time in seven years after Ravichandran Ashwin was ruled out of the match by injury.
Vihari was handed the task of being the primary spin bowler and he had a tough initiation with Finch clubbing his first two deliveries to the boundary.
India's tactics of targeting Finch’s pads were rewarded when quick Jasprit Bumrah trapped him lbw with a searing, full delivery in the midst of a probing spell just after the opener had reached his second test half century. Justifying captain Tim Paine's decision to bat first after winning the toss, the openers had batted through to lunch with few alarms as an under-pressure Finch repaid the faith of the selectors after a dire first test of just 11 runs.
The test is the first at the new 60,000-seat stadium located in Burswood after a 47-year run at the WACA and Australia will be keen to end a run of six tests without a victory against an India side seeking a first series win Down Under.
(Editing by John O'Brien and Nick Mulvenney)