By Tristan Lavalette
PERTH (Reuters) – Captain Virat Kohli determinedly led India’s fightback on an engrossing day two on Saturday, blunting Australia’s bowling attack to leave the second test hanging in the balance.
In reply to Australia’s first innings of 326, India fought back on the green-tinged Perth Stadium pitch to reach stumps at 172 for three with Kohli 82 not out and his deputy Ajinkya Rahane unbeaten on 51.
The home side bowled accurately but the much-hyped pitch, marked with widening cracks, settled down late in the day.
A fired-up Mitchell Starc (2-42) rebounded after coming in for some criticism for his bowling during Australia’s 31-run defeat in the first test in Adelaide.
After losing two wickets in their first six overs, Kohli rescued India through half-century partnerships with the in-form Cheteshwar Pujara and Rahane.
Kohli started confidently smashing four drives to the boundary in his first 10 deliveries faced, before playing watchfully against some tight Australian bowling.
Kohli and Pujara initially rebuilt India’s innings with a 74-run partnership after a shaky start saw them lose openers Murali Vijay and Lokesh Rahul cheaply either side of lunch.
Pujara, who was India’s hero in the first test with scores of 123 and 71, fell tamely for a hard-fought 24 when he was caught behind feathering a Starc delivery down the leg side.
An aggressive Rahane counter-attacked to break the shackles, as Kohli reached his first-half century against Australia in almost four years with a powerful cut shot to the boundary.
The India talisman had scored just 83 runs in his past seven test innings against Australia, but his 181-ball knock has given his team hope of reeling in Australia’s competitive first innings total.
Australia, desperate for a victory to level up the series, batted doggedly through the morning under overcast skies to add 49 vital runs to their overnight score.
Tim Paine (38) and Pat Cummins (19) combined for a crucial seventh-wicket partnership of 59.
Big quick Ishant Sharma (4-41) will start Australia’s second innings on a hat-trick after running through the tail as the home side lost their last four wickets for 16 runs.
Marcus Harris top-scored with 70, with Aaron Finch and Travis Head also making half-centuries in the fierce heat of the opening day.
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.
(Reporting by Tristan Lavalette, Editing by Nick Mulvenney/Sudipto Ganguly)