Pujara, Rahane dig India out of trouble

India put in by far their best performance since the first day in Pune, but it still wasn’t enough to get them completely out of the woods. It was the kind of fight expected from the Indians, who knew that a bad performance today would put an end to their chances of reclaiming the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. It was a day of swinging fortunes, with India getting ahead in the first session, before collapsing spectacularly in the second. In the third though, they went on to stamp their authority as they are used to, and put some pressure on the visitors, who will have to chase down a tricky total in the fourth innings.

India ended the day at 213 for the loss of 4 wickets, but Australia’s handy first-innings lead of 87 runs ensured India’s did not get too far ahead. Cheteshwar Pujara (79*) and Ajinkya Rahane (41*) shared an unbeaten 93-run stand at stumps.

Having endured a horror first day and a much-improved second, India grew in confidence on the third, with their plans and execution mostly on spot. Ravindra Jadeja was brought into the attack early and he quickly got into the act to wipe out the tail and keep Australia’s lead to 87.

Speaking at the press conference after day 2, Cheteshwar Pujara had said that India would be happy if they could restrict the Australia’s lead to another 40 runs. They ended up giving away only 37.

Ashwin started the procession by getting Mitchell Starc smartly caught by Jadeja at deep mid-wicket, and then the left-armer took over. Matthew Wade and Nathan Lyon were sent back LBW in the space of two deliveries, and in his next over, he ended the innings by getting Hazlewood caught at long-on. Jadeja, despite bowling only 21.4 overs in the innings, ended with superb figures of six for 63.

India had a nervous few over before Lunch to negate, and they gutsed it out. KL Rahul was his free-flowing self, continuing from where he left off in the first innings, while Abhinav Mukund just about did enough to counter the threat of Starc and Hazlewood to stay unbeaten. For once in this series, India had won a session, and had done the hard work to set a decent platform.

Off the fourth ball after Lunch, India’s plan went kaput. Mukund had looked ugly while keeping his wicket intact in the first session, but he presented Hazlewood with a massive bat-pad gap to exploit. The bowler hit his mark, and Mukund’s middle stump went for a walk.

Cheteshwar Pujara came in with his plans set. He played the spinners with bat firmly in front of pad, and although he needed some time adjusting and survived some nervous moments (he was dropped by Smith, and presented some chances at short-leg), it worked well for him. He also adopted a more upright stance to be able to counter Nathan Lyon’s turn and bounce, and the difference showed. He was able to calmly tuck away deliveries to the leg-side instead of being hurried into getting up and playing the deliveries, like he did in the first innings. Lyon managed to extract a good amount of bounce and turn, and he was bowling at the perfect pace to make it all effective. However, India’s plan to counter him by playing on top of the bounce and with bat in front of pad negated his threat to some extent.

Rahul, at the other end, continued to bat like there was nothing undue in the pitch. His defence was solid and his attack was a result of some clear thinking. He quickly brought up his thousandth Test run and his second fifty of the match as India closed in on Australia’s lead.

As has been the case so many times this season, a break caused a lapse in concentration for India. Smith brought in Steve O’Keefe for only his second over of the innings, and the left-armer was immediately into action. He lured Rahul into a wide drive by bowling a friendly half volley outside off-stump. Rahul took the bait, and Smith, diving full length to his right at first slip, took an outstanding one-handed catch.

Kohli, not surprisingly, walked out to a loud cheer. But after 25 deliveries he was making his walk bat to stunned silence. The Indian captain was caught on the crease with a ball from Hazlewood that kept low. He looked to have gotten just enough bat, but the umpire gave him out LBW. Kohli’s reaction to take up DRS was immediate, but with the third umpire unsure about whether the ball took bat or pad first, Nigel Llong’s decision stayed.

With the lead just at 25, it was a hammer blow to India’s chances. They attempted to counter that by bringing in Jadeja to the crease, but the experiment was nipped in the bud by Hazlewood, who removed Jadeja with a full-length delivery that took out the middle-stump. At Tea, India looked on course for another three-day finish, but Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane had other plans.

Pujara looked settled enough to get into his more natural way of playing – crouching lower – however, he ensured he still played with bat in front of pad. Rahane, too, adopted the approach and the pair gradually raised Indian hopes of a strong third innings total.

The pitch looked a lot settled, too, with Lyon and the pacers not getting much vertical variation. The batsmen were able to trust the bounce more while playing and soon enough the pair was able to start scoring much more freely.

Pujara went on to bring up a finely-worked fifty as Australia’s bowlers looked short of ideas. They upped the ante and scored at nearly four runs an over in the last half. The partnership put India in a decent position, but it also heaps pressure on Australia, who will know that if they don’t pull up their socks and dismiss India quickly tomorrow, a tricky fourth innings awaits.

Brief scores: India 189 & 213/4 (Cheteshwar Pujara 79*, KL Rahul 51, Ajinkya Rahane 40*; Josh Hazlewood 3-57) lead Australia 276 (Matt Renshaw 60, Shaun Marsh 66; Ravindra Jadeja 6-63) by 126 runs.

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