Australia bowled with admirable skill and patience yesterday but were again repelled by a wonderfully-calm innings from Cheteshwar Pujara, who put India well on top in the first Test in Adelaide.
It is not often a Test innings of 40 is as influential as the one compiled on day three by Pujara, who held back an Australian attack which was threatening to scythe through the Indian lineup.
Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon and Pat Cummins operated with such relentless precision that even the world’s best batsman Virat Kohli looked vulnerable and was unable to find any rhythm to his innings of 34 from 104 balls.
The collective force of the Australian attack was so strong yesterday it would have blown away most batting lineups.
Over after over they created chances, half-chances or at a minimum drew false strokes. The pressure they created was immense.
Yet through it all Pujara remained serene. Twice he was given out against Lyon only to be reprieved via reviews – first a caught behind was overturned and then an LBW.
Pujara’s composure did not wane, he was not drawn into playing needlessly aggressive strokes.
Instead he operated strictly within the narrow parameters he set for himself, a risk-averse approach which had helped him graft his first innings ton.
By stumps he was 40* from 127 balls, having batted for more than eight hours in total across this Test.
In guiding India to a second-innings lead of 166, with seven wickets in hand, he has put the tourists in a position from which it will be difficult for them to lose.
To win this Test Australia will have to produce a sensational opening session with the ball this morning and then bat much better than they did in the first innings.
While I am doubtful they can achieve the latter of those tasks, the former is certainly possible.
Lyon, Hazlewood and Cummins were outstanding yesterday, and also performed very well in the first innings. An early wicket this morning, particular if it’s Pujara, could set the Aussies alight and give them an outside chance of victory.
Lyon will be the key. The veteran off spinner has been bereft of luck so far in this Test, bowling far better than his match figures of 3-131 would suggest.
Easily he could have six or seven wickets for the Test already. Yesterday Lyon not only had two wickets lost to reviews but also watched Aaron Finch turf a relatively straightforward chance at leg slip.
All the while he had to contend with the crafty tactics of Pujara who kept using his pad as the first line of defence, either kicking away deliveries or tucking his bat behind his pad while playing faux-shots.
Lyon’s patience was admirable. It would have been easy for him to become frustrated and change his approach. But he recognised that he was troubling the Indian batsmen and just needed to stick to his guns.
Eventually that paid off when he had Kohli caught at short leg just four overs before stumps.
The Indian captain laboured at the crease in a manner which is rare for him. First he was tied down by Hazlewood, who beat his outside edge repeatedly as the Australian quick held a fourth-stump line and a testing length.
Then Lyon began to trouble Kohli as the off spinner landed delivery after delivery in the growing rough patch outside the off stump for right handers.
Finally Cummins came on and maintained this suffocation of Kohli, who completed the slowest innings of his career (minimum 70 balls faced) according to the Fox Sports coverage.
His dismissal was the skerrick of hope Australia needed just before the end of the day. They must feel that they bowled exceptionally well yesterday yet had little to show for it. Pujara was the main reason for that.