Steve Smith has hit back at Virat Kohli and his 1.2 billion strong army with a career-defining century that may have turned the series.
Angry and hurt at being branded a serial cheat by his Indian counterpart, Australian captain Smith showcased the fighting instincts of a true cricketing warrior to respond to the most taxing week of his life in emphatic style in Ranchi.
Kohli declared after Bangalore that he had the second biggest population in the world backing him up, but after a nasty fall on day one the home captain is now battling injury and without him, India look rudderless and lacking any intensity or aggression.
Kohli was taken for scans on his right shoulder after he fell heavily on it while trying to save a boundary on Thursday.
Australia went to stumps in control at 4-299, with Smith 117 not out off an epic 244 balls, and with him comeback hero Glenn Maxwell, who unbeaten on 82 will resume on Friday with a golden shot at a maiden Test hundred.
As Smith charged to a second signature captain’s hundred in this see-sawing Border-Gavaskar series, he became the third fastest player to reach the 5000-run landmark and further cemented his claims as Australia’s greatest modern day batsman.
Any momentum India had picked up in Bangalore was eroded thanks to an all-time partnership between Smith and Maxwell worth 159, and a potentially serious shoulder injury to Kohli who sat on the sidelines for the majority of a series-shaping day after falling badly chasing a Peter Handscomb shot to the fence.
Maxwell took his long-awaited second crack at Test cricket with both hands and defied the stigma of being cast a T20 specialist to bat through one-and-a-half sessions with expert class.
Smith weathered the storm of David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb all departing before Australia reached 150 and late in the day spent nearly an hour stuck in the 90s – including a bizarre moment when he was crash tackled to the ground by keeper Wriddhiman Saha trying to claim a catch from a ball stuck in the batsman’s pads – before he reached triple figures.
His understated but emotion-charged celebration told the story of what this innings meant for him personally and for his under-siege team.
“He’s handled this whole situation really well,” said Renshaw.
“It just showed that we’re here for a cricket series. He showed how to do it today.
“They still came out pretty hard but I think there just probably wasn’t as many words out there today.
“(No change in Smith’s demeanour) he’s just come out and trained hard, prepared well and showed us how it was done today.”
Never before has Smith found himself under a microscope as searing as he has this past week, with his integrity and that of his team brought into question following the DRS scandal that erupted in the second Test.
Forced into the match referee’s office for a pre-game meeting with bitter rival Kohli before play started, Smith put the controversy and simmering tensions to one side to join Mark Taylor and Mike Hussey with 19 Test hundreds.
Only Sir Donald Bradman and Sunil Gavaskar have passed 5000 runs for less games than Smith’s 53, and his average of 60 at this point of his career second only to the great Don.
Smith’s day started by winning arguably the most important toss of his career, but still Australia looked as though they might live to rue some soft early dismissals, especially when young gun Renshaw went on 44 when he had a big innings at his mercy.
But with the skipper at the helm, Australia had every reason to believe.
Smith has shown throughout his burgeoning career that he is a man capable of standing up in all occasions, and his outstanding record overseas is the strongest endorsement of why he is fast cementing himself as a modern-day great.
Openers Renshaw and Warner got Australia off to a flying start, peeling off a 50-run partnership before the wheels fell off.
Warner mistimed a full toss from Ravi Jadeja straight back down the wicket to be out caught and bowled for 19, a major body blow for Australia on a surface that the explosive run-scorer would have thrived on.
Renshaw broke new ground as the first Australian batsman in the history of Tests to pass 500 runs before age 21, and had India immediately on the back foot with a series of beautifully timed boundaries that made the most of the lightning fast outfield.
However, just when Renshaw and his captain Smith were starting to get into a rhythm, the rookie suffered a rare lapse in concentration and prodded at a Umesh Yadav delivery outside off-stump he should have left alone and his innings came to a sudden halt on 44.
Shaun Marsh came and went softly for just 2 – caught at bat pad also off Jadeja – and in the flash of an eye Australia were in serious strife at 3-89.