It was a captivating day of Test cricket which has strengthened Australia’s position in this game and the series as well. India, after looking uninspired with the ball throughout the course of play, showed a lot of determination in the last session with the bat but were pushed back again with both openers - Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma - heading back to the hut.
The day started on a ‘what if’ note for India. The indifferent spirit on India’s part might not have been there if Hanuma Vihari had pouched a straight forward catch of Marnus Labuschagne at square leg. Labuschagne clipped the ball towards Vihari off the second ball of the day but the Indian fielder made a mess of it. Indian bowlers kept bowling with a leg-side dominant field but that remained to be India’s only chance for a while.
Labuschagne and Steve Smith stretched the third wicket partnership for 17 overs today, though only adding 36 runs. 26 of these came from Labuschagne himself. A bit nervy to begin with, Labuschagne completed his fifty and struck a couple of silky boundaries as play went on. The right-hander crafted nine boundaries before falling for 73. He was caught behind while trying to glance a delivery that was angling down leg off the bowling of Navdeep Saini.
Matthew Wade, the new batsman in, appeared determined to bat long. However, he was squared up by Saini who was operating from around the wicket. Saini straightened the ball after angling it towards Wade which took the outside edge of the bat on its way to the wicket-keeper.
Smith, alongside Cameron Green, ensured that Saini’s twin strikes were just a passing hiccup. He batted through the session, adding 29 runs to his overnight score from 92 balls. While the pitch showed uneven bounce, Smith dismissed any delivery which was pitched in his radar. He drove Bumrah and Saini handsomely through the covers in successive overs soon after Wade’s departure and wasn’t shy to pierce the leg-side field. The two added 34 runs from 90 balls before lunch.
While runs in the morning session came at only 2.3 runs per over, the run-rate bloated to 5.7 in the second. None of the deliveries post lunch misbehaved and India appeared to be sleeping. Australia took full toll of that, first racing to a 300-run lead in merely three overs into the session and then accelerating towards the 400-mark.
Smith feasted on the leg-stump line, beginning his session with 10 runs off two balls. He hooked Mohammad Siraj before caressing him for four through the same area on the next ball. Next over, he swept R Ashwin through the leg-side to collect another boundary.
Siraj did not correct his line and continued to concede easy singles. Ashwin finally broke India’s slumber by hitting Smith on the pads with a sharp off-spinner. The right-hander was beaten by the turn. The umpire adjudged Smith not out but the ball-tracker showed the ball to be hitting the stumps, thus keeping him 19 runs short of scoring his second hundred of the match.
Green carried forward Australia’s charge with skipper Tim Paine. If the first half of the session brought 76 runs in 15 overs, the eight overs of the restrained second half - owing to an interruption caused by crowd behaviour - brought Australia 54 runs. Green, who was nearing his maiden Test fifty at drinks tore into the Indian pacers as soon he reached the milestone. He struck four towering sixes, reaching 84.
Green eventually edged Jasprit Bumrah to the wicket-keeper which drew curtains on his innings and a successful session for the home side. Australia declared at tea, asking India to either chase down 407 runs to win or bat out four sessions to save the Test.
India had the best of starts to keep them in contention for a draw at least. Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma batted with conviction. Surviving a number of close calls in a testing spell by the Australian pacers, the two kept run-scoring aside to stay determined to bat through the session. At the 18th over mark, Gill had a strike-rate of 47 while Rohit batted at 38.5. The next three overs brought 23 runs.
Things seemed on track until Gill recapitulated Will Pucovski’s second innings’ dismissal. Having batted with a straight bat till now, Gill poked at Josh Hazlewood’s delivery which straightened after pitching on an off-stump line. The ball took the outside edge of Gill’s angled bat on its way to Paine.
Towards the end of day’s play, Rohit, after completing a fine fifty, pulled Pat Cummins straight down Mitchell Starc’s throat at backward square leg. It was an unbelievable dismissal as Rohit fell for his strength and, as a result, undid all the hard work which could have resulted in greater things had he carried on to bat tomorrow.
The onus is now back on Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, as it was on day 3, but with the task a lot steeper given Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja’s injuries. Australia, at most, need eight wicket balls while India need to bat out 97 overs on day 5 or score 309 runs.