Off Starc’s second delivery, Sharma helped the short ball behind square for a six. That was the mood the two openers were in. Forget about playing for tea. With one over remaining for the break, Scott Boland was entrusted with the task of trying to break the partnership. He did just that, inducing a false shot from Gill whose ill-advised waft away from the body found the outside edge.
What lit the blue torch paper, though, was what happened afterwards. The thick edge flew wide off Cameron Green whose acrobatic one-handed grab was played over and over again on the big screens. While Gill stood his ground — as he was entitled to — the third umpire took his time, pouring over the finer details of the catch from all angles available to him (with no soft signal to guide him, he was free to make his own decision, his own interpretation). While replays were inconclusive, to say the least, the umpire was of the opinion that Green’s fingers were underneath the ball.
As soon as ‘Out’ flashed on the screen, the capacity crowd made their displeasure known. “Cheat, cheat, cheat,’ rained down the terraces as the teams made their off for tea. Both batters reacted to the decision with an element of disbelief; while Gill was shocked, Sharma screamed. After tea, the crowd had fully brought into the theory that Gill was robbed. When Green was brought into the attack, they welcomed him with chants of ‘cheat’. The wicket couldn’t have come at a worse time for the team.
They also lost the wickets of a well-set Sharma and an aggressive Cheteshwar Pujara before the close of play but Sunday morning will dawn with the promise of hope and history for a team aiming to win their first ICC title in a decade. It’s simple, really. They either have to bat the whole day to share the title or successfully chase down a target of 444. The record chase, as it stands, is 418 (West Indies against Australia). At stumps, India were 164/3.
All four results are still possible as the pitch seems to have lost that bit of bite it had. There is still some sort of uneven bounce but it isn’t as extreme as it was on the first few days. There is a lot of rough outside the left-hander’s off-stump but India have only one southpaw and Australia do not have a frontline leg-spinner.
If Sharma, Gill and, to a lesser extent, Pujara (he got out while trying to ramp Cummins), set the tone with a positive mindset, Virat Kohli kept up the run-scoring. While Ajinkya Rahane, who sustained a finger injury during his first essay, was a touch more cautious, India’s No. 4 looked at ease during his unbeaten xx. Some of the shots he played were worth the admission fee alone. One shot, an off-drive off Mitchell Starc just as the shadows were beginning to lengthen across the ground, will be a part of the highlights reel.
The one unmistakable aspect of India’s chase on Saturday was the way they had paced their innings. They scored a high percentage of their runs in boundaries (102 out of 163) and played out only two maidens across 40 overs.
Of course, it won’t be easy on Sunday. Chasing history — climbing Everest — is hard work. Late in the day, Lyon found Rahane’s outside edge but Alex Carey couldn’t hold on. Can India hold on? They have flirted with the idea of winning several global titles in the recent past. Yet they have found themselves short when it really mattered. A final here against Pakistan. A semifinal there against England. Knockout bouts against New Zealand. Now, this batch of players are in the unique position of composing a victory song that will stand the test of history.