In isolation, the day’s narrative makes for a compelling read. Bowlers stuck to their task while the batsmen grafted away diligently. Thirteen wickets fell and 291 runs were scored, as the fourth day of the third Test in Mohali ended with only one team realistically having a chance of winning the Test.
After the hammering on Saturday, Baggy-Greeners stoically riposted on Sunday, dismissing the hosts for 499, conceding only 216 runs while taking 10 wickets. But in the overall context, series defeat is looming large. At 75 for three, with three frontline batsmen in the pavilion and a deficit of 16 runs, Australia’s plight in the series has a recurring resonance.
Such was the effect of Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay’s hundreds that inducing a series-reviving win seems improbable for Australia. Unless they bat deep into the final day — they were further dented by Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s triple blows- even a draw looks difficult. The match’s link with the unreal was de-linked as nascent as the 11th ball of the day, when Nathan Lyon dismissed Dhawan, caught at silly point. For the debutant, who added only two more to his overnight score of 185, the early exit was the proverbial leveller.
Three overs after, previous match’s double centurion Cheteshwar Pujara was erroneously adjudged leg before, giving Australia hopes of a Hyderabad-like implosion. But Vijay and Sachin Tendulkar stitched a 93-run-partnership in 31.1 overs before the latter’s intended dead-bat took the inside edge to the short-leg, giving Steven Smith a wicket of his ball of the day.
Tendulkar started briskly straight driving Mitchell Starc and punching him past point, but pulled the shutters down after Xavier Doherty’s introduction. He though was assured, before stroke-of-lunch circumspection resulted in his dismissal.
Contrastingly, Vijay has chalked out a century-striking formula, as he notched up his second successive three-figure mark of the series and his third overall (incidentally all three were against Australia). Since his comeback, his temperament has been the decisive difference. Gone are his flash and whim, and in came a maturity that was hitherto invisible. Even during Dhawan’s scorching knock on Saturday, Vijay had exuded a calm tempo, and he sustained it after Dhawan’s dismissal. He ushered in his 50 in the 98th ball, 100 in the 206th ball and 150 in the 315th ball, suggestive of a uniform tenor to his run-making.
Maybe, he hadn’t the audacity of Dhawan, but his stroke-play was no less spectacular. Typically, he revelled through his percentage shots — the on-the-rise punches, pinpoint square-drives and the wristy pick-up lofts through mid-wicket and long-on. Pertinently, he didn’t resort to any impetous shots. But again he departed when he had looked destined for a double hundred. A fleeting moment of misjudgment, impervious of the tricks Mitchell Starc was capable with a shining ball. The second new-ball — surprisingly Australia procrastinated it until the 102nd over — paved the way for Australia’s comeback bid.
The said over was perhaps Australia’s best on this tour as Starc swung the ball back sharply into the batsmen. Since Starc was either taking the ball away on the angle or letting it hold the line, Murali Vijay and Dhoni were caught unawares with the one that came in. Peter Siddle got rid of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin in successive overs, as Australia strangulated India through some conventional, disciplined bowling.
But the pressure uncorked itself once the pace duo fatigued, and Michael Clarke reintroduced his spinners. Their 12 overs had cost only 25 runs, and once they were replaced, Virat Kohli and Bhuvneshwar Kumar kicked along, adding 61 runs for the eighth wicket, before Siddle returned to blow away the tailenders, in the process picking his seventh five-for in Tests.