There are dominating displays, and then there is this. Australia had gone all out in their preparations to counter the Indian players and conditions before their tour, but no amount of work or foresight would have enabled them to be ready for what unfurled on Day 4 of the third Test in Ranchi.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha put on a record seventh-wicket stand, and in course broke multiple other records, to pound Australia into the ground and put India in a position from where they cannot lose the match.
When these two got together at the crease, India were still far from safety at 328 for 6 in the 116th over. When Pujara eventually was dismissed, India had racked up 527 in the 194th over. By then Pujara had hit his 11th double hundred in first-class cricket, and Wriddhiman Saha his third Test century. With a lead of over 70 already, India had assumed a position of great strength. Ravindra Jadeja added the cherry at the top of the cake in his inimitable style by cracking a quick-fire fifty, taking India past the 600-run mark. The hosts declared at 603 for 9, with a lead of 152. In reply, Australia lost David Warner and Nathan Lyon late in the day to end at 23 for 2.
Day 4 of the Test promised a lot, with both teams just about on par and fighting for higher ground. India were still a fair distance away from Australia’s total, and early setback could well have handed the advantage to the visitors.
They looked to have attained just that when Pat Cummins, Australia’s hero the previous day, trapped Saha in front. To the naked eye, it looked out, and Saha went up to the third umpire in sheer desperation. To India’s delight, the ball was missing the stumps, and the home team was able to resume their fight.
That incident also turned out to be a vital turning point in the game, with Australia soon resorting to run-stopping methods to get the batsmen out. Steve O’Keefe stuck to over the wicket for long periods of time, with Pujara happily padding away the deliveries. Saha had to counter the pacers mostly, but was largely untroubled during the phase.
At Lunch, India went in 16 runs short of Australia’s 451. A session had gone without a wicket and unless things changed drastically for Steve Smith’s side, they had to bat long on the final day to keep India at bay.
Unfortunately for them, there was no such hope in sight. Pujara and Saha came out more determined to grind Australia and they did so with aplomb. Soon, the frustration started to show, with the fielders’ throws back to keeper going awry and a number of misfields.
India evened the scores soon after and started to slowly up the ante. Saha employed the sweep and the drives, while Pujara picked singles with ease. The home team went past the 500-run mark just before Tea, and both batsmen went into the break agonisingly short of their personal landmarks. Saha was one run away from his hundred, while Pujara was on 190.
By then a few records, some unenviable the others not, were broken. The Pujara-Saha combine had notched up the highest-ever seventh wicket stand for India against the visitors in Tests, while Pujara also had faced the most number of balls by an Indian in an innings, usurping Rahul Dravid’s record of 495 in Rawalpinidi. O’Keefe, meanwhile, had bowled the second-most number of overs by any bowler in India. He ended with a marathon 77 overs, taking three wickets for 199 runs.
Not surprisingly, India stepped out with more purpose in the final session. Saha tucked one into the leg side to complete a richly-deserved hundred. Pujara got his own landmark soon after, another clip off the legs, bringing up what must be one of his best knocks ever. It must be mentioned that the Australian team were quick to applaud and personally congratulate both the players when they reached their milestones.
With the personal landmarks ticked off, the pair started to attack. Pujara could only add two runs after his double ton, and handed a catch to Glenn Maxwell. Saha, meanwhile, added 17 more before falling to O’Keefe.
Safety was secured, but India still needed to score quick and really leave Australia in despair. They were 90 runs ahead, and another forty-odd in quick time would leave the visitors flustered. Jadeja provided exactly that.
Riding high after his mature bowling performance, Jadeja let fly a flurry of strokes to bury the Australians. He notched up his fifty off just 51 balls, with the help of four fours and two sixes. He celebrated with his novel bat-wagging style. When a tickle for four helped India go past the 600 run mark, Virat Kohli declared to have a go at the batsmen.
Warner looked to attack India from the onset and got himself going with three boundaries off R Ashwin, but at the other end, with footmarks to work with, Jadeja was spinning a web. When strike turned over in the sixth over, Warner had no answer to one that turned in from the rough. Warner’s offstump lay flat on the ground, and India celebrated their first breakthrough. Two overs later they were celebrating again, as nightwatchman Nathan Lyon was out bowled by Jadeja. Australia ended the day at 23 for 2.
The Australians were out on the field for almost two and a half days. The impact of it is bound to tell sooner rather than later. They are already two down and India have their tail up. The finale should be an exciting one.
Brief scores: Australia 451 & 23/2 (David Warner 14; Ravindra Jadeja 2-6) trail India 603/9 decl. (Cheteshwar Pujara 202, Wriddhiman Saha 117, Ravindra Jadeja 54*; Pat Cummins 4-106, Steve O’Keefe 3-199) by 129 runs.