Star allrounder Ravindra Jadeja's remarkable spell enabled India raise visions of an unlikely win at the close of play on Day 3 of the ongoing World Test Championship (WTC) final against Australia at the Oval on Friday.
Australia closed the day at 123/4 in 44 overs, with Marnus Labuschagne and Cameron Green unbeaten at 41(118)* and 7(27)* respectively.
At the beginning of the day, Ajinkya Rahane and Shardul Thakur's partnership laid the groundwork for the Indians to fight back after having their backs against the wall for the better part of two days.
Speedster Umesh Yadav set the tone for the Indians quite early in the third session, as he dismissed Usman Khawaja cheaply (13 off 39 balls). The left-hander knicked a wide delivered wide outside off-stump and KS Bharat dived low to take a fine catch.
Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith once again settled Australian nerves, as they kept the scoreboard ticking over.
But India managed to find a breakthrough after 16 overs, with the centurion from the first innings failing to make his mark this time. Brought into the attack, left-armer Jadeja sent back the former Australia skipper for the eighth time in his career.
Jadeja brought his experience to the fore yet again as he dismissed another centurion from the first innings, Travis Head. In the first ball of the 37th over, Head was dropped by Umesh Yadav on the boundary line and the ball went for a six. On the second ball of that over, Head regained his composure and defended it for a dot ball.
However, on the third ball, Jadeja dismissed Head after he lobbed a catch at him. This was the final Australian wicket to fall for the day as Cameron Green and Labuschagne survived the final ball.
Before tea, Ajinkya Rahane and Shardul Thakur managed to reignite India's hope of making a comeback in the WTC final, Australian bowlers once again showcased their prowess, with skipper Pat Cummins dismissing Rahane at the beginning of the second session.
Rahane, who was in sight of what would have been a fine century on his return to the Indian red-ball team, fell for 89 (129).
The right-hander, who had survived some close calls and anxious moments, eventually ran out of luck as Cameron Green took a stunning catch to send him back to the pavillion. Umesh tried to play a cameo but Cummins made short work of him. Yadav fell for a score of 5(11).
Thakur soon followed Rahane back to the shed as in trying to clear the boundary, he edged to wicketkeeper Alex Carey behind the stumps. Thakur's counter-attacking knock came to an end for 51(109).
With Thakur gone, Shami went after the Australian pacers, striking two consecutive boundaries in the 67th over off Boland. His attacking knock was, however, short-lived as he was dismissed by the pacer for 13 (11).
The fall of this wicket saw the Indians being rolled over for 296 in 69.4 overs, trailing Australia by 173 runs.
The Australian left-handed opening duo of David Warner and Usman Khawaja stepped up to build on their 173-run advantage. However, the Aussies were rocked early as Siraj drew first blood, dismissing Warner for a score of 1(8). Marnus Labuschagne and Khwaja, however, survived the initial torrid spell, to take the Aussies to 23/1 in 11 overs.
The Australians started the first session of Day 3 in the same way as they did on Day 2, with Boland getting a delivery to sneak past the defence of Indian wicketkeeper-batsman KS Bharat and striking timber. Bharat fell on the second ball of Day 3 at a score of 5 off 15 balls.
The strapping right-armer got a good-length delivery to tailback sharply at Bharat, dislodging his off peg.
After the fall of Bharat's wicket, Rahane and Thakur went about rebuilding the Indian innings. Rahane brought up his 26th Test half-century, under tough and testing circumstances, in the 47th over.
Thakur, who has played enterprising knocks for his country in the red-ball format, fought fire with fire as the Aussies threw everything at him. However, the cricketing gods seemed to be smiling on him, as he survived some anxious moments.
In the final over of the first session, Shardul was adjudged LBW to skipper Cummins. However, even as the onfield decision was sent to the third umpire for review, Cummins was found to have stepped over the blowing mark. The ball was eventually adjudged a no-ball.
In the next over, bowled by Mitchell Starc, Shardul knocked a delivery. which fell marginally short of Australian wicketkeeper Alex Carey.
Even Rahane had his share of good fortune during the first session as he survived a strong LBW shout in the 49th over, which was turned down by the on-field umpire but was sent up to the third umpire for a referral.
He edged the next delivery but it flew over the first slip and raced to the fence. On the third ball, he stroked a delightful drive to bring up two consecutive boundaries.
In the final overs of the first session, he tried to play a drive but ended up edging to the first slip. However, the catch fell short of David Warner, who was standing in the first slip.
At the close of play in the first session, India was still trailing the Australians by 209 runs.
Brief scores: Australia 123/4 (Marnus Labuschagne 41(118)*, Steve smith 34(47) and Ravindra Jadeja 2/25) vs India. (ANI)