Captain Ajinkya Rahane led by example with a dogged half-century as India closed in on Australia’s first-innings total of 195 all out in the second Test here on Sunday.
At tea on the second day, Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja were batting on 53 and 4 respectively, as the visitors reached 189 for five.
Rishabh Pant (29) and Hanuma Vihari (21) fritted away good starts after doing all the hard work.
Vihari fell to off-spinner Nathan Lyon while trying to sweep him from outside off-stump after he had added 52 runs for the fourth wicket with his captain.
In came Pant and despite the constant scrutiny around him, the wicketkeeper-batsman showed no nerves and confidently went about playing his strokes.
If Rahane managed to blunt the opposition bowlers with his defensive approach before opening up, Pant’s aggression forced Australia to change their attacking tactic.
Rahane’s first real authoritative shot was a cracking pull off Josh Hazlewood and there was also a sumptuous off-drive for a four. Balls directed on Rahane’s pads were comfortably whipped through the square-leg region and he was equally good while playing the drives and late cuts.
At the other end, Pant rocked back to cut Lyon to the cover boundary and in the over before that, he went on the backfoot and pulled Pat Cummins in front of square for a four and then collected another boundary through the gully region.
However, just when he was beginning to pose a treat to the hosts, Mitchell Starc found a thin edge off Pant to bring the match back on even keel. It was Paine’s 150th dismissal and wicket number 250 for Starc.
In the first session, India lost two wickets in as many overs to the relentless Cummins as Australia grabbed early honours.
Resuming on 36 for one, India started cautiously before losing both their overnight batsmen — debutant Shubman Gill and the seasoned Cheteshwar Pujara — in the space of 11 balls to reach 90 for three at lunch.
At lunch, Rahane was batting on 10 and giving him company was Vihari on 13 with India trailing by 105 runs.
The 21-year-old Gill impressed on his debut with a fluent 45 and played some fine shots during his 65-ball knock at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. While Pujara made 17, having faced 70 deliveries.
The first to go was Gill, who perished when he edged Cummins for Paine to take a regulation catch behind the stumps.
Australia were soon celebrating again as Cummins picked up the big wicket of Pujara after straightening him up with a brilliant delivery that angled in and moved just enough to induce an edge.
Paine, who lost a review after assuming that Gill had nicked the day’s very first delivery, complemented his top fast bowler by completing a fine diving catch.
That brought Vihari to the crease and he got off the mark with a confident drive down the ground.
Vihari and Rahane negotiated the Australian fast bowlers thereafter to conclude an eventful first first session.
With a bit of luck, India survived the first hour but the hosts came back after Cummins’ perseverance paid off to take the second half of the opening session’s play.
Australia’s bowlers were superb but they often bowled a tad short.