Slow and steady was the mantra for India on day three, as Cheteshwar Pujara played an old-fashioned Test match innings for the ages, with the home side inching closer to Australia's first innings total, despite Pat Cummins' best efforts.
In the morning, India looked to take the sting out of the contest by blocking, blocking and then blocking some more in the first hour and a half of day three in this Test match in Ranchi, with that blockathon then coming to the fore again in the final session.
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They cut loose in the final half hour before Lunch, and while Vijay threw away his wicket on the stroke of the break, the run-scoring momentum was carried forward to the second session, with Pujara, in particular, stepping up a couple of gears.
India also did really well to move on from losing their captain Kohli (6, 23b), who suffered his fifth straight failure in this Test series – almost unheard of from the Kohli version of the past couple of years – thanks to the immovable Pujara. It must also be said that all the wickets that went down in the first two sessions were completely avoidable, with Vijay, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane guilty of gifting away their wickets.
After batting for almost the entire two hours of the first session, Vijay (82, 183b, 10x4, 1x6) and Pujara managed 71 runs in 30.4 overs – and that was mainly because the boundaries flowed in the last half hour.
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Right from the off, it looked like Australia's strategy was to keep things tight, with Steve O'Keefe bowling from one end and darting the balls in, targeting the stumps.
The fast bowlers Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins were equally parsimonious at the other end, but that was also because India showed absolutely no intent – Virat Kohli's favourite word – with the bat.
It felt like, if whoever was on strike at the start of the over, the only intention was to see off that over, not take the singles or even put the bad balls away – admittedly there weren't many of those from Australia.
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Maybe the message from the dressing room at the start of the day was not to lose wickets, doesn't matter if the runs come or not. If that was the message – and the only reason that message would have come across would have been to give Kohli, padded up and in whites from the start, more time to recover – then fair enough.
Maybe, they assessed the wicket and feel it will be easier to score runs in the afternoon, and if that is the case, fair enough again.
That plan would have gone completely out of the window, however, had Australia used their one remaining review better.
Steve Smith went upstairs after Pujara was struck on the pads by an O'Keefe delivery in the last ball of the 58th over. There were clearly two sounds there, but Smith, thinking it was bat first, went for the review, with the replays showing it was the other way around.
Pujara survived and off the very next ball, Nathan Lyon, who caused a lot of problems to the right-handed batsmen bowling around the wicket, Australia went up for a big bat-pad appeal after a catch was taken at short leg. Umpire Ian Gould shook his head and because Australia had no reviews left, all they could do was walk back and get ready for the next delivery.
As is so often the case, when you are out of reviews, the replays showed, Vijay had nicked it.
Pujara and Vijay, after surviving those close calls, showed that intent, that was missing, in the final 30 minutes of the session, with the runs coming a whole lot quicker and deflating the pressure that Australia had built in the process, only for it to go right back again, when Vijay fell off what was the last ball of the session to O'Keefe, with Matthew Wade completing a simple stumping after a brain fade from the batsman.
The second session saw Pujara start smoothly, while Kohli looked a little nervous, knowing full well that all eyes were on him, not just because of the lack of runs in this series, but also due to the shoulder injury, which kept him out of the field for a day and a half.
That nervousness got the best of him in the end, as Cummins, with a new ball in hand, got the big wicket via the full delivery. Kohli went for the big drive with no foot movement and all he managed was an edge which flew through to Steve Smith, who took a smart catch at second slip, before rather sadly mocking Kohli's shoulder injury, a ball after Glenn Maxwell had done the same when he stopped a four on the boundary line.
Rahane came in and stayed with Pujara for a while – the pair putting on 51 runs in a shade under 11 overs – before playing a shot that would have looked daft even in a T20 game.
Cummins, with Australia under pressure as the runs flowed from the new ball, bowled one really short, and Rahane (14, 33b, 2x4) felt the need to try and play the ramp shot. With the ball so high that it would have probably been called a wide, all he found was a nick, with Wade doing the rest.
Those wickets piled the pressure further on Pujara, and he responded by becoming the first Indian player in this series to reach three-figures—a spanking cover drive off Cummins getting him to his 11th Test century.
Pujara went back to his defensive shell in the final session, as Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, who would pick up Karun Nair (23, 47b, 2x4) and R Ashwin (3, 22b) respectively, bowled really well with the old ball, finding some reverse-swing and Steve O'Keefe kept to a negative line from over the wicket.
Try as Australia might, they just could not sway Pujara's concentration and with Wriddhiman Saha staying solid at the other end, India went back into the dressing room after a fighting, but relatively satisfying day three, even if they probably would have liked a few more runs.
First innings: Australia: 451 all out in 137.3 overs.
India: 360/6 in 130 overs, trail by 91 runs.
Overnight score: 120/1 in 40 overs.
Batting in the middle: Cheteshwar Pujara (130, 328b, 17x4) and Wriddhiman Saha (18, 42b, 3x4).
Bowling: First innings: Australia: Josh Hazlewood 31-9-66-1; Pat Cummins 25-8-59-4; Steve O'Keefe 43-11-117-1; Nathan Lyon 29-2-97-0; Glenn Maxwell 2-0-4-0.
Fall of wickets: First innings: India: 91/1, KL Rahul (31.2 overs); 193/2, Murali Vijay (70.4 overs); 225/3, Virat Kohli (80.4 overs); 276/4, Ajinkya Rahane (91.2 overs); 320/5, Karun Nair (107.4 overs); 328/6, R Ashwin (115.4 overs).
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