India seized control of the third Test on day four in Ranchi, where Australia gave up a first-innings lead of 152 runs then lost two wickets and almost certainly any hope of victory.
The top-ranked Test nation declared at 9-603 on Sunday. Australia slipped to 2-23 in response at stumps, with David Warner and nightwatchman Nathan Lyon both bowled by Ravindra Jadeja.
A 199-run partnership between double-centurion Cheteshwar Pujara and centurion Wriddhiman Saha turned the match – and quite possibly the four-Test series – on its head during two wicketless sessions on Sunday.
Coach Darren Lehmann backed his charges to salvage a draw, which would keep the series level at 1-1 heading to the Dharamsala decider.
“We’ve got to save the game,” Lehmann said.
“It’s tough to lose those two wickets tonight.
“But once the ball gets a little bit softer it plays pretty well, so there’s no real demons in the track. It’s a case of us applying ourselves much like Pujara and Saha did today.
“We’ve got to cope with it as best we can and come up with a plan. They’ve done a lot of practise in those sort of conditions, so I’m really confident they can do the job.”
Tensions are already running high. Virat Kohli celebrated both wickets heartily, grabbing his shoulder in a clear sign he didn’t appreciate Glenn Maxwell’s antics on the preceding day.
Skipper Steve Smith, who scored 178 not out in the first innings to give Australia the upper hand, will walk out to bat at the start of play on Monday still wondering how it all went so wrong on a lopsided fourth day that broke all manner of records.
Pujara scored 202, spent over 11 hours at the crease and faced a record-breaking 525 deliveries. It was the longest Test innings by an Indian.
Saha, who was dropped on 51 by counterpart Matthew Wade, contributed 117 runs. Jadeja, who now has seven wickets in the match, belted an unbeaten 54 from 55 balls and was rebuked by umpires for running on the pitch.
Even if India fail to take a 2-1 lead in the series, they will claim a moral victory in forcing the visiting bowlers to toil for a staggering 210 overs. Australia haven’t spent so long in the field during a Test innings since 1975.
“They were pretty good when they came off, probably happy to get off the ground,” Lehmann said of his bowlers.
All eyes will be on injury-prone express paceman Pat Cummins, who delivered 39 overs in his first Test since a memorable debut in 2011.
But every member of Australia’s attack will be under the pump to back up on Saturday, when the final Test starts in Dharamsala.
O’Keefe, who created the straightforward chance that Wade put down in the 156th over, bowled 77 overs. It is the most overs delivered by an Australian in a Test innings since Jim Higgs’ 79.4 overs against England in 1979.
The tourists, who dismissed Saha for 19 and Pujara for 157 only for both lbw verdicts to be overturned upon review, showed increasing signs of fatigue and frustration as the day wore on.