If there was anything like completely owning a day in a Test match, India's performance on Day 4 of the Ranchi Test will surely qualify as one. It was a day when the host batsmen, led by Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha, dominated proceedings and sent the bowlers on a leather hunt, piling up a 600-plus score and taking a sizeable lead.
The Indian batting line-up which has been uncharacteristically quiet during this series finally came into its own, putting up a big total as had become usual during the home season. What will be heartening for the India team management is that the lower order found its touch, with Ravindra Jadeja also picking up a fifty and Umesh Yadav scoring some handy runs.
And then, at the fag end of the day's play, Ravindra Jadeja produced two absolute jaffas to get rid of the dangerous David Warner and nightwatchman Nathan Lyon to have the visitors under considerable pressure. What India's marquee performance on Sunday has done is to take one possibility virtually out of the equation - that of an Australian victory.
The hosts' performance appears all the more weighty when you consider that at the start of Day 4, the match was perfectly in the balance, with India resuming from their overnight score of 360/6. The Australians just needed four wickets to wrap up the Indian innings, but could never have imagined India would add 275 runs for the last four wickets.
Pujara and Saha put on 199 runs for the seventh wicket - the highest against Australia for seventh or lower wickets. The 210 overs bowled by Australia was the highest they have had to bowl in a Test innings in Asia, while the hero of the Pune Test, Steve O'Keefe, bowled a mammoth figure of 77 overs - the most by an Australian bowler in a Test innings in India. Nathan Lyon, on the other hand, returned with figures of 1/163, getting a wicket for the first time since his 8/50 in India's first innings in the previous Test in Bengaluru.
Pujara, for his part, played 525 balls, or 87.2 overs for his 202. That is nearly the full quota of overs in an entire day's cricket all by himself. It was his third Test double ton overall and the second against Australia. In the process, he faced the most number of balls and batted for the longest duration among all Indian batsmen in a Test innings. The 525 ball he faced was also the most by any batsmen in a Test innings in India.
These numbers show the domination India have extended on this match. What they now need to do on the last day on Monday is to continue the momentum that they have. Two wickets just before the close of play was just the icing on the cake that they would have wanted after putting up 600-plus on the board.
Australia shielded their captain and talisman Steve Smith on day four at the fall of Warner's wicket, for bigger battles on Monday. Australia's first priority would be to save the match, which gives the hosts ample opportunity to go on the offensive. So expect a lot of close-in fielders and a lot of appeals on Monday.
It could well boil down to a contest between Smith and the Indian bowlers on Day 5. The Australian captain has a tremendous record against India and has shown he has the wherewithal to not only sustain, but flourish on a difficult pitch. The Ranchi pitch is not even half as difficult as the one in Pune, where Smith defied the hosts with a sublime hundred and had also picked up a hundred in the first innings here. He is surely the biggest thorn in India's path, now that Warner has been sent back.
However, as important as it is to get Smith early, Virat Kohli and Co should not make the mistake of training all their guns at Smith, which will allow the Matt Renshaws and Glenn Maxwells space to manoeuvre. What India must do is to be relentless in their efforts to force a win in Ranchi. Their target should be to bowl the visitors out for not too many runs more than 150, which will give them a smallish total to chase down. If the visitors can stretch their innings to the final session, they would have ensured a draw and that is something the hosts would want to avoid.
The fifth day pitch would offer assistance to the bowlers, and Jadeja did spin the ball out of the rough to disturb the furniture behind Warner. That ball kicked up a considerable amount of dust, which shows that the wicket is breaking up. There are cracks on the pitch that the faster bowlers can also exploit, and Kohli must rotate his spinners and pacers wisely.
India hold all the aces in the Ranchi Test. If Smith can defy the Indians again, he will have further boosted his credentials as one of the top batsmen of his generation. The scales are, however, tilted in India's favour, and it's a match that's the hosts' to lose now
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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2017 10:31:05 IST