Off-spinner Ravi Ashwin and pacer Mohammed Shami picked up two wickets each as Australia went to stumps on 104-4, still needing 219 runs to reach the 323-run target set by the visitors.
Earlier, half-centuries from Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane put India on track for a big second innings total before a dramatic collapse saw them lose the last five wickets for 25 runs and get dismissed for 307.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon was the wrecker in chief again, finishing with figures of 6-122 from 42 overs.
THE GRAND STAND
Pujara and Rahane are two of the most solid batsmen in the Indian side and they took charge of proceedings in the morning session. Pujara moved on to 71 from 204 balls while Rahane finished with 70 as the two added 87 runs for the fourth wicket.
Pujara was out to the second new ball with Lyon getting the ball to jump and take the batsman’s glove to short leg.
Wicketkeeper batsman Rishabh Pant tried to up the ante, smashing 28 from 16 balls with four fours and one six but went for one shot too many against Lyon, slicing the ball to deep cover.
At one point, it seemed India would bat until the final session and set Australia a target of close to 400, effectively taking their defeat out of the equation. But India’s lower order undid all the hard work done by the top order batsmen.
Once Pujara went, the wheels started to come off. Rohit Sharma was caught at silly point while Pant mistimed a wild swing off Lyon. Rahane, who had moved on to 70 after some exquisite drives and cuts off the pacers, tried to reverse sweep Lyon but was caught at deep point as the off-spinner picked up his 13th five-wicket haul in Tests.
Mitchell Starc returned to polish off the tail, taking the scalps of Ravi Ashwin and Ishant Sharma with India losing their last four wickets for four runs.
A target of 323 was enticing for both teams. India needed to start well and they almost did, with Ishant trapping opener Aaron Finch lbw only for it be called a no-ball.
However, the visitors kept the pressure up. Ashwin got a lucky dismissal as Finch was adjudged caught behind off the glove even though there wasn’t any conclusive evidence even as the batsman strangely refused to review.
There was no luck involved in the next three dismissals as pacer Shami got opener Marcus Harris to edge a full ball behind before having Peter Handscomb caught at short mid wicket off a pull shot. Ashwin, at the other end, beat Usman Khawaja in flight to have the batsman pouched acrobatically at cover by Rohit Sharma. Australia’s hopes now rest on the shoulders of Shaun Marsh (31 not out) and Travis Head (11 not out).
India’s average runs scored per over in Tests in the last two years is 3.5. That’s a very health scoring rate, which has helped India – like other top teams – wrap up wins in three or four days.
In the first Test against Australia in Adelaide, India hit seven sixes. Yet the scoring rate over 88 overs was less than three an over – 2.8 – as they were bowled out for 250.
When Australia batted, the scoring got even slower. The hosts were bowled out for 235 in 98.4 overs for RPO of 2.3. When India batted in the second innings, they did no better. Virat Kohli took 104 balls for his 34 as the No1 Test side reached 61 overs for 151 runs – at 2.4 runs an over.
Welcome to Cheteshwar Pujara’s dreamland. In 2016, Pujara was asked by the Indian team to ‘quicken up’ when batting. Since then, he was involved in six of the next eight Indian run outs as he attempted to show more ‘intent’ – a one-word joke in Indian cricketing circles.
The Adelaide Test is right up Pujara’s alley, and up to his doorstep. Shot making was difficult and the outfield heavy, which meant batting for long periods against two high quality pace attack and spinners.
This is what Pujara does for a living, even at the domestic circuit. His strike very rarely goes over 40 or nudges beyond 50 per 100 balls faced. But put 150-200 balls in front of him and there is generally a hard-fought fifty or a priceless century – as was the case in the first innings in Adelaide – to show for all the graft.
This Chesteshwar Pujara innings is worth an IPL orange cap earned over 14 games in 8 weeks across the country. But this man won’t get a contract. So we must find a way to acknowledge and compensate his excellence. #AUSvsIND— Rahul Fernandes (@newspaperwallah) December 6, 2018
Pujara has already scored more than 160 runs in the Test and if he bats for a substantial period on Sunday, the Aussies will not only face a stiff fourth innings target but be forced to contend with an in-form batsman that is not Kohli.
Pujara offers a very specific sets of skills. He assesses the conditions, opposition’s attack and state of the match and builds an innings at his pace. The game goes at his speed, the runs are scored when he gets comfortable. There is simply no place for wild swings en route to a few runs; like KL Rahul did during his 44 in the second innings.
Maybe Kohli will score a breathtaking 200 at some point in the remaining three Tests. Maybe Rahul or Rishabh Pant or Rohit Sharma will span 100 off 120 balls and set the match up. And Pujara’s adroit innings will get nothing more than an smile and a nod.
But every ‘star’ batsman in the Indian team will know that when the going was tough in the first Test, Pujara’s way was the only way.
Aussie off-spinner Nathan Lyon made good use of the rough outside off-stump against the Indians, dismissing Virat Kohli for 34 with a sharp edge to short leg on Saturday. And given Ashwin’s efforts in the first innings on a pitch that was less helpful, Bumrah backed the Indian spinner to weave his magic.
India are 166 runs ahead with seven wickets in hand and two days left in the opening Test.
“Ashwin will obviously play a more crucial now role because with the rough, we saw Nathan Lyon using the rough to his advantage. He is an experienced bowler and knows what he has to do. So he will probably work on it and he will play a crucial role for sure,” Bumrah said .
Bumrah lauded the entire Indian attack after the visitors dismissed the hosts for 235 and earn a 15-run lead on a pitch that notoriously slow and did not have a lot off sideways movement in it.
“We were trying to figure out the lengths that are useful over here. In South Africa and England, there was a lot of lateral movement. Here the wickets are slightly flatter because you get bounce, but you have to be consistent.
“That’s the thing we have read over the years. We were trying to focus on that, that if we don’t give runs, we are creating pressure from both ends and then we could get wickets,” said Bumrah.
Bumrah backed the Indian middle and lower order to set a big target.
“I think it is slightly in our favour because the late wicket (Kohli) was a good thing for them. But we have a good lead. First session tomorrow will be a very important. If we capitalise on that, that will leave us in a very good place in this match,” the quick added.