A marathon 193 by Cheteshwar Pujara and a quick-fire unbeaten 88 from Rishabh Pant steered India into a dominant position at the final Test Friday with Australia rapidly seeing their hopes of saving the series evaporate.
Calm and collected number three Pujara was finally caught and bowled by spinner Nathan Lyon after a batting masterclass that spanned a day-and-a-half and 373 balls.
It was due reward for the tireless Lyon who also accounted for Hanuma Vihari in the only other wicket to fall so far on day two.
At tea in Sydney, India were 491 for six with impressive young gun Pant quickening the tempo with some exquisite strokes to also close in on a century. Ravindra Jadeja was not out 25.
The visitors lead the series 2-1 after winning the opening clash in Adelaide and the third one in Melbourne. Australia claimed victory in Perth.
If India, the world’s top-ranked nation, win or draw in Sydney they will clinch a first-ever series in Australia since they began touring Down Under in 1947-48.
They began day two on 303 for four with Pujara 130 not out and the right-hander picked up where he left off.
He drove his second ball through the covers for three before once again dropping anchor, blocking and targeting only loose balls.
Throughout his knock, he hardly played a false stroke in a demonstration of “old-school” Test batting, soaking up the pressure and counter-attacking when he saw an opportunity.
Pujara brought up his 150 with a boundary and seemed destined for his fourth Test 200 before attempting to whip Lyon down the leg side. Instead, he lobbed the ball back into the spinner’s hands.
He survived a review decision for caught behind on 12 and was dropped on 192 by Usman Khawaja from a difficult chance, but was otherwise faultless.
In a tweet, Sri Lankan batting legend Kumar Sangakkara summed it up.
“A great lesson to all batsmen in the series and tests in general,” he said. “@cheteshwar1 showing how trusting your strengths and being unashamedly dogged in technique and concentration brings great rewards.”
At the other end chirpy wicketkeeper-batsman Pant eased his way to a third 50 in his ninth Test, and began throwing the bat to push the total towards 500 and a possible declaration from skipper Virat Kohli.
Earlier, Vihari added only three to his overnight 39 before he misjudged a sweep off Lyon and the ball feathered his glove, with Marnus Labuschagne taking the catch.
India reviewed the decision unsuccessfully, ending a 101-run stand with Pujara.
From the moment the coin landed in Kohli’s favour, the Test has taken on a predictable tone. Whichever team has won the toss in the series has batted first and gone on to win the match.
When Australia bat, they will have a new-look opening pair with Usman Khawaja padding up with Marcus Harris after Aaron Finch was axed.
They have also taken a gamble in picking allrounder Labuschagne to come in at number three.