Steve Smith has extended his recent streak of dominance against India, delivering yet another Test century when Australia needed it most.
Smith posted the 20th ton of his Test career on day one of the series decider between Australia and India in Dharamsala.
It came as his teammates threatened to throw away the ascendancy he and David Warner had built in the high-stakes contest. Warner, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb and Glenn Maxwell departed amid a collapse of 4-34.
Smith, as was the case in Ranchi where he ran out of partners and finished 178 not out, looked like he was batting on a different pitch.
“It looks that easy for him. It’s obviously not that easy for him when he’s out there but from sitting off the ground it’s like he’s playing a different game,” Matthew Wade said.
“He’s the best player in the world at the moment but he’s on track to be one of the greatest players Australia has ever seen.”
The innings will continue to fuel debate about whether Smith is Australia’s greatest batsman since Don Bradman.
Smith doesn’t have a commanding grip on that title but will almost certainly grasp it if he continues to peel off hundreds with such remarkable consistency and composure.
Bradman and Indian icon Sunil Gavaskar are the only batsmen to have reached 20 Test centuries in fewer matches than Smith, who celebrated the milestone in Test No.54.
It is even more remarkable given Smith started his international career as a legspinning allrounder. He didn’t reach three figures until his 12th Test.
The 27-year-old now has seven centuries from eight consecutive Tests against India, having also ruled the 2014/15 series between the sides.
“He’s just got them totally rattled and they don’t know what to do,” former Australia captain Allan Border said.
“They’ve tried different lines to him, they tried some around the wicket with the new ball.
“Nothing has worked.”
Smith is the second visiting captain to score three centuries during a Test series in India, joining Alastair Cook who managed the feat in 2012, leading England to a shock series win.
If Australia record their second Test series win in India since 1969, Smith will almost certainly be named man of the series.
He won the toss on Saturday then brought up his half-century in 67 deliveries, picking gaps and stroking boundaries with ease as India’s rejigged attack and bumbling fielders struggled to keep the runs down.
He needed a further 83 balls to reach three figures as batting partners shuffled on and off the field during an eventful post-lunch session.