Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
India 244 and 98 for 2 (Sharma 52, Gill 31) need 309 runs to beat Australia 338 and 312 for 6 dec (Green 84, Smith 81, Labuschagne 73, Saini 2-54)
After a promising opening stand of 71 by India, Australia's relentless pace attack got rid of both Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill within half an hour to remind the visitors that they were still facing an uphill task of not just needing another 309 runs but also surviving 97 overs on the last day. With India 98 for 2, and Ravindra Jadeja dealing with a fractured thumb which may not let him bat, Australia could be only three wickets away from opening the tail and storming their way towards a 2-1 series lead.
Australia propelled themselves into a dominant position with half-centuries from Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith and Cameron Green, who put on a display of belligerent hitting after crossing 50 with the help of four sixes that enabled them to score at 5.65 in the second session. Once Australia declared with a massive lead of 406 at tea, Sharma and Gill gave India a glimmer of hope by stitching a partnership of 71, but Gill fell to Josh Hazlewood's stifling line outside off and Sharma pulled a short ball straight to fine leg to leave India 92 for 2.
Sharma wasn't unafraid to pull from the very first ball of the innings and the shot even fetched him a six off Green soon after he had unleashed two exquisite cover drives off Mitchell Starc in the previous over. Gill, too, exhibited elegant back-foot punches on the way to his 31 as the new ball barely moved around. India's 34 overs also saw as many as four reviews taken, all off Hazlewood's bowling.
The first two came within a space of three balls in the eighth over when Hazlewood thought he had Sharma lbw with a delivery that jagged back in. Replays, however, showed the ball was going over the stumps. Two balls later, after Sharma nearly chopped on in between for a single, Tim Paine reviewed when they thought Gill edged one behind but the ball had only flicked the pad.
The second set of reviews occurred in the 23rd over and this time Hazlewood tasted success by getting a thick edge off Gill's bat. Gill somehow thought of reviewing that and lost his team a review. Three balls later, Paul Wilson adjudged Cheteshwar Pujara lbw on a duck but the batsman reviewed immediately after being hit on the thigh pad and was saved by ball-tracking's projection of the ball going over the stumps.
After reaching his half-century with a lofted swing for four off Nathan Lyon, Sharma departed when he pulled Pat Cummins straight to fine leg and walked back in disappointment.
Another promising sign for the hosts was the temperament with which Green batted after Smith's dismissal and switched gears to extend the lead. Three of his four sixes came against Mohammed Siraj after he saw through a tough spell from Jasprit Bumrah. Green looked at ease during his 132-ball stay, especially when scoring was not as easy in the first two sessions because of the slowness and the turn.
The change in tempo from Australia was apparent much earlier when Smith started to attack after lunch that saw a Siraj over going for 12. Smith then swept R Ashwin for four and clipped Siraj for another before Ashwin trapped him lbw and used a review to send him back. India could have reduced their troubles had they held on to two dropped catches, both off Bumrah. The second was off Paine, on 7, when Sharma put him down at wide first slip and the first was on the second ball of the day when Hanuma Vihari dropped a straightforward catch off Labuschagne at backward square leg.
Paine dealt in boundaries after he was dropped for a quick fifty stand with Green, who got to 50 with a thick edge that gave Ajinkya Rahane a very touch chance at gully off the second new ball. Green's charge was paused by a crowd incident directed towards Siraj at the leg-side boundary which led to six fans being evicted from the ground. Once play resumed, Green drilled Bumrah down the ground for four and then hooked him for six. Green was closing in on a maiden century but on the last ball of the same over, he was given caught behind even without an appeal from Bumrah when he missed another heave. When Green reviewed, Snicko confirmed a thin edge, and Australia declared during the tea break.
The first session belonged to the hosts as well. Labuschagne cashed in after being dropped on 47 and put on another century stand with Smith. He continued to score freely square of the wicket and Smith cracked a few cover drives to also cross 50. It took an excellent spell of 7-1-19-2 from Navdeep Saini, whose high-arm action extracted extra bounce to have Labuschagne caught down leg, and then have Matthew Wade poke at one outside off for 4. Smith steered Australia past 200 but once he was trapped lbw for 81 by Ashwin with a loopy offbreak, Green took over with Paine and flattened India further.
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