The final session of the fourth day saw only 10.4 overs of play and two overs of changeover time. Rain had delayed the start of the session. The clouds were hovering around. Forecast for the final day was not encouraging either. When Australia walked out to bat, they were 280 runs ahead, a score never chased at the Gabba ever.
The highlight of the last session was not how many runs the last three Australia batsmen added. But, the fact that most players in the dressing room, including the skipper Tim Paine, were in their training gear. This indicated that despite the lead near 300 and with the forecast around, Australia were in no hurry to declare. There is no doubt that this was a result of India's effort in Sydney. And not the resistance but the counter-attack that kept India in the hunt to chase down a target of 407 until the tea interval on the last day.
As it turned out, rain washed off the entire last hour. In the interim, Australia tailenders threw their bat around to add 47 in the 8.5 overs, stretching the lead to 327. For the benefit of Siraj, their approach allowed him to earn his maiden five-for. In a moment that perfectly depicts the camaraderie in this Indian team, the player who took the catch – that of the last Australian batsmen – was Shardul Thakur who was gunning for a five-for himself. When Siraj led the team off the ground, Thakur was as elated as Siraj himself.
Before all this, Australia had the best possible start to the day. For the first half an hour, India were either still euphoric from the earlier day or just tried too hard. David Warner had already taken Australia to a flying start last evening. He started with a crisp boundary to the third ball of the day.
Post that, Marcus Harris took over the onus of boundary-hitting. He cut and drove with disdain as Australia batted in one-day mode to start with, adding 40 runs in the first seven overs of the day. It was not without help from India's bowlers. Interspersed between a few plays and misses were some drivable balls or deliveries with width from Siraj. Even T Natarajan – who bowled with precision in the first innings - lost his accuracy and strayed down the pads or bowled short and wide. There was also some luck involved as the two outside edges - one each from the batsmen - went under and above the slips.
It was the celebrated duo from the third day that got together again to bring some semblance to the proceedings. Thakur by keeping the ball closer to the body of the two left-handers and Washington Sundar turning it away from them reduced the scoring-rate.
After a few quiet overs, Thakur targeted the openers with short balls. The first ball Harris received was a bouncer as well, to which he bent down but without getting his gloves out of the way. Rishabh Pant completed an easy catch.
Bowling the next over, Sundar turned the first five away from Warner, beating him once. A natural variation of the ball staying straight after pitching got him by surprise. Anticipating turn, Warner stayed back to a full ball that caught him plumb in front.
If Warner's wicket was to break the momentum then Marnus Labuschagne had other ideas. He was on to 25 in no time. He attacked Sundar specifically, cutting him behind point and hitting him down the ground using his feet. He glanced and punched Thakur.
After a seven-over spell, Siraj replaced a tiring Thakur. If the momentum did not break earlier, it certainly did after his first over. Labuschagne steered his second ball past second slip for four. Siraj put a little more effort into the next ball that bounced more and straightened after pitching. Rohit Sharma, at second slip, gobbled the outside edge. The last ball of the over was on Matthew Wade's pads. Looking to glance it, he got a tickle and Pant completed a diving catch. After a dream start by Australia, India came storming back.
The balance shifted again after lunch as Steve Smith carried the positive approach forward, hitting boundaries whenever presented with an opportunity. For the first seventy balls he faced, Green struggled to score at a rate matching the approach to that of Smith or of the batsmen earlier. When Smith completed his half-century in 69 balls, Green was 14 off 70. Smith was pulling, using his feet or crunching past mid-on. Green was looking to survive. A sweep off the 72nd ball he faced, an over before Smith's dismissal brought about some fluency to Green's batting. He repeated the same shot in Sundar's next over and followed up with a cut past point against Navdeep Saini. He moved to 37 off 90 before Thakur had him caught at second slip.
The first signs of the pitch playing tricks came in the 49th over of the innings, 43rd of the day. Four balls bowled at around the same length by Natarajan behaved differently. The first one stayed low and passed underneath Cameron Green’s bat. The second bounced as per Green's expectations. He defended it out. The third rose a touch more to hit his thighs. The fourth nipped back and hit him in the delicate groin area.
Six overs later, Siraj made one to bounce off a crack. The ball took Smith's gloves and straight to gully. Tim Paine was lucky to not end up the same way to the first ball he faced. With only one gear to play with, he looked fluent. He was adept with piercing the gap, running his runs on the huge outfield against some lacklustre Indian fielders. He did not miss out on a driving opportunity and even reverse-swept Sundar.
It took another bouncer, this time from Thakur to end his brisk 27-run knock. Looking to hook, a top-edge to the keeper was all he managed. At his dismissal, Australia were 275 ahead. But, his reaction made it clear that Australia were looking for a few more runs.
What might have affected Australia’s thinking is the scare that Pakistan gave them by scoring 460 in the final innings here in 2016. In a day’s time, we shall know if Australia were prudent to score around 50 more runs after tea or too defensive to not use those overs to make inroads in the Indian innings.
With the cracks opening up, the final day is perfectly set-up. Without a rain interruption, it is unlikely to not be a result here. With it, India are favourites to retain the Border Gavaskar Trophy.