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Australia's 50-50 lifelines

A half-century is like half a glass of water: a matter of perception. Is the glass half empty or half full? Is a half-century an achievement or a wasted opportunity? Batting in good conditions on day one of a Test it's a bit of both, though more of the latter judging by the expressions worn by Chris Rogers and Shane Watson as they walked off the MCG after being dismissed on Boxing Day.

Questions have been asked of Watson and Rogers in this series, and they haven't always had the answers. Too many wrong choices from either of them and it could have been, 'Goodbye, thanks for playing'. In Melbourne, they combined for a 50-50 lifeline that both needed, though Watson moreso. On current form, Watson would have struggled to find support from asking the audience.

By the end of the day's play, three Australians had registered half-centuries that meant three very different things. Steven Smith finished the afternoon on 72 and it continued an outstanding year in which he has scored four hundreds and five fifties. He passed 1000 runs for the calendar year on Boxing Day and India's best chance of dismissing him appears to be running him out.

For Smith, a fifty was just another day at the office. For Watson, a fifty meant he might get another day at the office. In the final Test of 2014, Watson made his first half-century of the year. It has been another frustrating year for Watson. A calf injury stopped him playing two of the three Tests in South Africa and prevented him from touring the UAE in October.

He started the year at first drop in an Ashes triumph, batted at No.6 and No.4 in South Africa, and was back to No.3 for this series against India. He is under pressure from fellow allrounder Mitchell Marsh, ten years his junior, who is out with a hamstring injury but might return for the Sydney Test. For Watson, 52 on Boxing Day was a useful contribution but also a missed chance.

The MCG is his favourite Test venue - just before Watson got out he was averaging 100 in Tests at the ground. For a man battling for form, India gave Watson too many runs early. Dropped on 37, Watson might have seen this as his opportunity for an innings of serious note. But after seven dot balls in a row, Watson went the big sweep and was lbw to R Ashwin.

Australia's captain Michael Clarke was in the Channel Nine commentary box at the time and you could hear the disappointment in his voice. At first he said Watson would be annoyed at himself for hitting across the line, before checking his comments and saying that he was well set and is a good sweeper, so justification for the shot was there. But he missed the ball, and missed his chance.

Rogers had fallen in the previous over for 57. His innings followed on from a pair of 55s at the Gabba. The coach Darren Lehmann said after Rogers' aggressive effort in the chase in Brisbane that it was like watching Brian Lara at the crease. Early in his innings at the MCG it was like watching Lara on a scratchy day, if he ever had one; the shots were played but rarely middled.

Rogers struck five boundaries and four threes, his placement often better than his timing. That is nothing new for Rogers, though - last year at the MCG he picked up 11 threes across the course of the match, using the dimensions of the ground to his advantage. But on a ground where he made 61 and 116 against England last year, falling for 57 was an annoyance.

"Just frustrated really," Rogers said. "Three scores in the fifties is good in some respects but it's also very disappointing because as an opener you do the hard work and put yourself in a position where you can get a big score. To get out like that was disappointing because I felt good today, I felt my feet were going and I had a real desire to get a big score."

His innings consolidated his place in the side, just as his pair of fifties in the previous Test had done. But a big hundred was there for the taking, and he chided himself as he walked off after being lured in to an edge behind off Mohammed Shami. Rogers wants to be on the 2015 Ashes tour of England and probably will be, but he had sensed a third Test ton for the year would all but lock it in.

Still, for others the sight of so much as a fifty on the scorecard would be a welcome one. Brad Haddin has had a year from hell with the bat, passing 200 runs in aggregate for 2014 late on Boxing Day. At stumps he was still at the crease on 23 and had the chance to make something of his start. That opportunity had been lost to Shaun Marsh.

Criticised for being an all-or-nothing Test player - he has six ducks and two hundreds from 18 Test innings - Marsh has in this series turned into another start-waster. In Brisbane it was 32 and 17, here it was another 32. Marsh offers little besides batting - he doesn't bowl, dropped two catches at the Gabba and has an elbow injury affecting his throwing.

At 31, he cannot afford too many squandered starts. Only once in his stop-start Test career has Marsh passed fifty and not gone on to score a century. Forget fifty-fifty, forget asking the audience, if Marsh fails again in the second innings his best lifeline might be to phone a friend. Anyone have Rod Marsh's number?