Australia were firmly on course for a victory in the third Test after getting rid of a dangerous Rishabh Pant and the rock-steady Cheteshwar Pujara, reducing India to 280 for 5 at tea in pursuit of 407 on the fifth and final day here on Monday.
India now need 127 runs to win but, in all probability, will be looking to survive 36 overs in the final session of the match to salvage a draw.
Pant (97) and Pujara (77) added 148 runs for the fourth wicket in an amazing counter-attacking partnership before their dismissals put India in a spot with an injured Hanuma Vihari (4 batting) in company of Ravichandran Ashwin (7 batting) engaged in an arduous battle.
There was method to madness in Pant’s exhilarating innings in which he hit 12 fours and three sixes off 118 balls. His ‘cat and mouse’ game with world’s best off-spinner Nathan Lyon was one for the ages.
It was Lyon, who had the last laugh though when Pant’s desperation to get to the three-figure mark before the second new ball saw him try to hit the spinner against the turn.
The result would have horrified his partner Pujara, who looked far more purposeful during his 205-ball knock. He got a beauty from Josh Hazlewood and was bowled in the manner he has often been — playing inside the line to a delivery that moves a shade after pitching.
Pant was promoted above Vihari as playing the surviving game wouldn’t have helped on this track and also the left-right combination needed to be in place.
Pant defended for the first 35 odd balls but then, suddenly in a couple of overs from Lyon, hit him over long on for a six and three fours using his feet to perfection.
Tim Paine then decided to change Lyon’s end from Randwick to Paddington but the result was two more sixes — one over long-off and other over long-on.
This sudden attack did force Paine to again change his end back to ‘Randwick’. Pujara also seemed to gain in confidence and played that whip off mid-wicket to further torment the off-spinner.
The left-hander, who hit eight fours and three sixes, was also severe on Mitchell Starc, creaming him through covers on a number of occasions and jabbing a short ball through point.
He was a bit lucky on two occasions with Paine dropping sharp chances off Lyon.
But what will stay on for a long time was the assured footwork and strategy against the off-spinner by reaching to the pitch of the deliveries.
On most occasions, he just came down the track to smother the spin and disturb Lyon’s natural length.
There was a point in time just before lunch when Lyon had as many as five fielders posted at various boundary points for a lofted shot, a departure from his usual attacking field.
Knowing that the second new ball will be due in the second session, Pant smashed four boundaries in no time which also gave Pujara confidence to play his strokes and he too brought out the pull-shot out of his repertoire.
His dismissal once again changed the complexion even though Pujara’s new found confidence in shot-making did fetch him a few runs.
Once he was gone, Vihari, with a pulled hamstring and Ravichandran Ashwin, whose batting form has deserted him for some time, were left with the uphill battle of saving the game.