Tea India 503 for 6 (Pujara 190*, Saha 99*) lead Australia 451 by 52 runs
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Wriddhiman Saha and Cheteshwar Pujara took their partnership past 150 © Associated Press
Cheteshwar Pujara secured the longest occupation ever by an Indian batsman in terms of balls faced as he and Wriddhiman Saha ground Australia’s bowlers into the Ranchi dust on the fourth day. The tourists were unable to maintain their shackles on the duo after a pair of close calls went against them in the morning, leaving India as the only side who can win this match.
Patience has always been a strength of Pujara’s, and by surpassing Rahul Dravid as the Indian batsman to face the most balls in an innings he showed fortitude of a truly rare kind. Saha offered excellent support, opening his shoulders to play attractively against a tiring Australian attack and reaching the cusp of a century.
Pat Cummins, who again bowled with great quality, had Saha given out lbw with his first ball of the day, but the batsman’s referral showed the ball to be missing leg stump by millimetres.
Closer to lunch, Pujara was given out lbw to a delivery that Nathan Lyon straighted down the line of the stumps from around the wicket, but his review showed the ball to be spinning too much and sliding past leg stump. Steve O’Keefe also came close to a breakthrough when Saha edged a cut shot attempt but the chance was dropped by Matthew Wade.
Chances dried up almost entirely in the afternoon as Pujara and Saha went on to a partnership that has redefined the match and possibly the series. Not least by placing a considerable physical strain on Australia’s four-man bowling attack – Glenn Maxwell’s offbreaks have been used only sparingly.
Pujara’s performance has effectively cancelled out the big hundred made by Australia’s captain Steven Smith, and put India in position to pressure the tourists on the final day. Saha’s assistance was also vital in frustrating a touring team that had started the day with hopes of quickly rolling up the India tail and setting a fourth-innings target.
Cummins had briefly enjoyed the sensation of claiming a fifth wicket of the innings on his return to Test cricket nearly six years after his storied debut against South Africa in Johannesburg. Saha was nowhere near a ball angled into him, and there was some discussion with Pujara before he reviewed. The Australians were floored when ball-tracking showed the ball to be missing leg stump.
From there Pujara and Saha accumulated slowly, against bowling that remained disciplined under an overcast sky that compelled the umpires to turn on the stadium floodlights. Pujara’s 150 was a marker of his concentration and temperament against bowling that rarely lapsed into looseness.
Lyon was not used until midway through the first session, and from around the stumps he appeared to have found a way to winkle out Pujara when the umpire Ian Gould raised his finger in response to the lbw appeal. However, HawkEye again went the way of India.
Wade’s drop of Saha from O’Keefe on 51 drew an apology from gloveman to bowler, then shortly before the interval Lyon again appealed and then referred, this time for caught behind when Saha essayed a sweep shot. But replays found no evidence of contact and left the Australians having made no progress for their morning’s efforts.
Smith took the third new ball soon after play resumed, and once more Cummins produced a series of testing deliveries but was unable to claim the wicket Australia so dearly needed. Instead, the hosts forged into the lead while the visitors used up their two decision referrals with a pair of overly optimistic appeals.
Pujara’s long-batting milestone was followed by Saha’s approach to within one run of his century. The stand was worth an unbeaten 175 at the break, with two sessions now elapsing without a single wicket.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo