Ahmedabad, March 9: Opener Usman Khawaja (104 not out) and Cameron Green (49 not out) put on a quick partnership to push Australia on top of the fourth and final Test against India in Ahmedabad on Thursday. The visitors ended the opening day’s play comfortably placed at 255 for 4.
Khawaja scored his first hundred against India, his 14th overall in Tests, and along with Green added 85 runs off just 116 balls for the fifth wicket to grind the Indian bowlers, who were on a high after removing Peter Handscomb (17) and skipper Steve Smith (38) soon after the tea break.
The duo helped Australia score 106 runs for the loss of two wickets in the final session of the day. Khawaja hit 15 fours during his unbeaten marathon innings of 251 balls, while Green smashed eight fours in his 64-ball knock, scoring at an impressive strike rate of 76.56.
Mohammed Shami was the pick of the Indian bowlers, returning figures of 2 for 65 in 17 overs, while the spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin (1/57) and Ravindra Jadeja (1/49) took a wicket each.
Khawaja forged 50-plus partnerships with Travis Head, Smith and Green in easily the best batting conditions so far to put Australia on course for their highest total in the series.
Khawaja brought up his hundred in the final over of the day. Green was batting at the other end after putting on 85 runs with Khawaja.
Australia scored at a run-a-ball rate in the last nine overs of the day, after India had taken the second new ball, at the Narendra Modi Stadium.
It has been a bowler-dominated series so far with each of the first three Tests ending inside three days and spinners from both sides ruled the roost.
The pitch in Ahmedabad finally brought some relief to the batters and the 61-run opening stand between Khawaja and Head vindicated Smith’s decision to bat first.
Head could have been dismissed for seven but KS Bharat dropped a waist-high sitter after the opener had edged Umesh Yadav. Head, who made 32, kept playing his shots but did not get his timing right against Ashwin and was caught at mid-on by Jadeja.
India tasted further success largely because of Marnus Labuschagne’s penchant to occasionally get stuck in the crease. The right-hander, currently the top-ranked Test batsman, made three before dragging a Shami delivery onto his stumps.
Khawaja was joined in the middle by Smith, leading Australia in the absence of regular skipper Pat Cummins, who flew home to be with his ailing mother.
The series saw its first wicketless session when Khawaja and Smith combined to deny India a breakthrough in the second segment of the day.
Jadeja ended that 79-run partnership soon after the tea break when Smith, having made 38, presented an angled bat only to deflect the ball onto his stumps.
Shami sent Peter Handscomb’s (17) off-stump cartwheeling but Green and Khawaja scored freely.
The morning session crowd included Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after whom the stadium is named, and his Australian counterpart, Anthony Albanese.
India, who lead the series 2-1, need to win the match to join Australia in the final of the World Test Championship at The Oval in June.
(ToI With inputs from Reuters)