During the tea break on day 4, Virat Kohli had gone to the nets to practice for 20 minutes. He knew the task in hand was a monumental one. Australia had set India a target of 287, India had lost KL Rahul (0) and Cheteshwar Pujara (4) cheaply. India needed Kohli to put in his absolute best. However, when he was dismissed by Nathan Lyon for the seventh time, the disappointment on Kohli’s face symbolized India’s plight. The consistent display by the Australian bowlers, combined with yet another display of grit by the Australian tail has given Tim Paine’s side the opportunity to register a famous win and square the series. Australia had started the day on a positive note, with Usman Khawaja and Paine extending the partnership.
In the first session, India toiled away but they could not break the obdurate defences of Khawaja and Paine. The left-hander showed grit and notched up his 14th fifty and the 72-run stand had helped Australia close in on the 250-run lead. On a pitch offering variable bounce and carry, this lead was gold-dust. India did not get a single wicket in the first session and things were slipping away rapidly. In that period, there was a heated verbal showdown between Kohli and Paine that resulted in the intervention of the umpire, Chris Gaffaney. Both skippers were going after each other even on day 3 and it continued.
However, the second session brought out a different Indian unit and Mohammed Shami reaped the rewards of bowling short. The right-armer tore through the lower-order with his hostility and he accounted for Paine (37) with a vicious bouncer as the batsman fended it to Kohli at slip. Aaron Finch, who returned after being forced to retire hurt due to a blow to his index finger, gloved a short ball to the leg side to fall for 25. Khawaja (72) was undone by a ball which leapt up outside off and when Jasprit Bumrah knocked over Pat Cummins (1) with a ball which shot through low, Australia had lost four wickets for six runs. Shami (6/56) grabbed his career-best figures in Tests when Nathan Lyon (5) mistimed a short ball to be dismissed for the first time in the series and it seemed India had a reasonable total to chase.
However, it was at this moment that the Australian tail stung India. Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc survived the pace and bounce off both Bumrah and Ishant and stitched a 36-run stand for the final wicket. When Bumrah bowled Starc, Australia had set a target of 287
Rahul, under pressure due to lack of runs, did not help his cause when he misjudged a full inswinger from Starc to be cleaned up for 0. Hazlewood, utilising the extra bounce with the new ball on this deck, accounted for Pujara (4) as the batsman played away from the body to a climbing bouncer.
Kohli and Vijay steadied the ship by playing some confident strokes. The fans at the new Perth stadium grew vocal with each run that the Indian skipper scored but they were silenced when Lyon forced an edge of Kohli to a straight ball and Khawaja took the catch cleanly at slip. The Indian skipper has now fallen to Lyon the most number of times in Tests and the offspinner, who was recently praised by Sachin Tendulkar, showed his class by bowling Vijay (20) with a ball that turned in and got the inside edge to clip leg stump.
Rahane and Hanuma Vihari showed application, with Rahane signaling his intent by slashing Starc to the third man fence for a six. The Mumbai right-hander attacked and raised hopes for India but towards the fag end of the day, Rahane cut a short and wide ball from Hazlewood straight to Travis Head at point. His dismissal has reduced hopes of India pulling off a victory. In the last 86 years, India have chased down a target in excess of 200 in Australia, South Africa, England and New Zealand only twice. It looks like the wait might be prolonged.