DHARAMSHALA: Indian batsmen frittered away the initial advantage before reaching 248 for six against a disciplined Australia to leave the fourth and final cricket Test evenly poised, here Sunday.
India are still 52 runs short of Australia’s first innings total of 300 as atleast three batsmen failed to convert their starts into big knocks.
With the pitch offering significant turn along with good bounce, batting will only get difficult in the third and fourth innings in what promises to be a battle of attrition in the next three days.
Playing a batsmen short, opener Lokesh Rahul’s indiscretion cost India dearly. India never got the required momentum after Rahul’s ill-timed pull-shot off a Patrick Cummins bouncer. He scored 60 off 124 balls.
Cheteshwar Pujara (57) and Ajinkya Rahane (46) also got starts before Nathan Lyon snuffed them out, extracting sharp bounce from the pitch.
India were comfortable placed at 108 for one before Rahul’s dismissal and could have pushed for lead but are struggling to level the scores at least.
After probing spells by the new ball bowlers Josh Hazlewood (1/40 in 18 overs) and Pat Cummins (1/59 off 20 overs), it was off-spinner Lyon (4/67 from 28 overs), who tormented the middle-order was once again in the final session of the day which belonged to Australia.
The final session in which India scored 95 runs saw them lose as many as four wickets – all trying to be defensive against Lyon.
If India fought hard, credit to Ravichandran Ashwin (30 off 49 balls) and Ravindra Jadeja (16), who played their natural game knowing fully well that mere survival won’t get them anywhere as the cracks on the pitch widened and the bounce remained true as ever.
It could have been worse had Wriddhiman Saha (10 batting) catch would have been taken by Matt Renshaw at first slip. But if the Indian innings had a turning point, it was Rahul, who again raised visions of a big score before throwing his wicket.
Rahul looked comfortable during his knock of 60 – his fifth half-century of the series – before a sudden rush of blood saw him play a pull shot off a Cummins short ball only to offer a simple skier to David Warner at cover.
Rahul hit nine fours and a slog-swept six off Steve O’Keefe. The Rahul-Pujara duo added 87 runs for the second wicket to lend solidity to the Indian innings after Murali Vijay’s (11) early departure.
The dependable Pujara kept his focus intact en route his 15th half-century but was out after tea with Lyon producing a classical off-break, flight and turn which he gloved to Peter Handscomb at forward short leg.
Pujara played some glorious on-drives using his feet against both O’keefe and Nathan Lyon. The half-century came up with a whip through the mid-wicket region as he reaffirmed his status of being India’s best batsman in the current series. His innings had six boundaries off 151 balls.
Skipper Rahane was shaky to begin with a mis-timed pull off Cummins that got him a six but grew in confidence during his 104-ball stay at the wicket which also fetched him seven boundaries.
He added 49 runs each with Pujara and Ashwin. He was looking good for second half century of the series when Lyon got a straighter to bounce a shade more as Steve Smith took a sharp catch at first slip.