So near yet so far, that was the awful feeling at the end of a Test which India deserved to win. Instead, Australia escaped with a draw by the skin of their teeth.
India could have won the Ranchi Test and taken an unbeatable 2-1 lead in the four-match series if only they had done things differently.
1. Playing XI
The decision to go ahead with just four bowlers was a monumental mistake for sure. The sixth batsman, Karun Nair, in this case, did not produce the desired runs. India finally had to be bailed out by a brilliant innings by Cheteshwar Pujara with substantial help from Wridddhaman Saha.
But where things went wrong for India in the Australian first innings as well as in the second innings was the absence of a fifth bowler. Either a fast-medium bowler, like Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, or a spinner would have been a great help to cut short the Aussie innings in both essays.
But the Indian think-tank went defensive after the loss of the first Test, misread the Ranchi pitch and then ended up over bowling the four bowlers to the extent that they looked jaded and sorted out as the visitors' innings progressed.
2. Playing spinners on Day 5
Virat Kohli could have attacked with both spinners early on the fifth morning when the Aussies were gasping for breath. Instead, he used a combination of the spin of Ravindra Jadeja and the pace of Umesh Yadav. He later brought on Ishant Sharma for Umesh, and in this manner virtually kept his ace bowler Ravichandran Ashwin off the firing line for almost the entire morning.
Was Ashwin injured? We don't know. But the fact is in his absence from the bowling crease the batsmen got used to the pace and vagaries of the pitch by playing familiar fast medium bowling. They certainly would have heaved a sigh of relief for being allowed to settle down in this manner.
3. Fielding positions
Two fielding positions that Kohli has almost ignored totally are silly point and the backward short leg. A silly point is not used in modern cricket because batsmen no longer play bat-pad for fear of being given out lbw.
But a fielder in that position causes tension and uncertainty in batsmen's mind and is useful to prise out nervous newcomers. Actually for all his talk, Kohli was just not aggressive enough in the morning. Likewise, a leg slip could have picked up a catch or two. Ajinkya Rahane was posted at backward short leg later, but was not sharp enough to grab half chances.
4. Rahane's substitute captaincy
Rahane as substitute skipper in the absence of an injured Kohli in the first innings was a let down. He did not look sharp nor were his bowling changes inspiring. At one stage, he took Umesh off when he was bowling beautifully. He could have coaxed an over or two out of him at that stage. Instead he took him and the pressure off.
Actually there is very little captaincy material in this side, barring Kohli and that could tell in future too. Rahane is not convincing. May be a Pujara or Ashwin or even Murali Vijay could be a better bet.
Finally, a bit more aggression while batting could certainly have helped speed up things. Pujara batted splendidly, no doubt. But after getting to his 150, he could have been a lot more aggressive when the opponents were tired and dispirited. Saha too could have attacked a lot more.
Batsman Jadeja did the right thing by going after the Aussie bowling. In hindsight, it could be said that the sedate approach of Pujara and Saha enabled the Aussies to get a breather. If they had stepped on the gas when they were on top of the attack and after having grabbed the lead the Aussies would have been under the pump on the evening of day four itself.
Instead they were allowed to regroup, let off the hook on the fifth morning and escaped with a commendable draw. India, well as they played, must get into the habit of grinding the opposition on the very first opportunity. It is such ruthlessness that separates champions from the also-rans.