MELBOURNE (Reuters) - India moved within two wickets of an emphatic victory in the third test after reducing Australia to 258 for eight at the close of day four on Saturday as the home side’s batsmen suffered a familiar spate of failures.
Having set a daunting victory target of 399 shortly before lunch, Virat Kohli’s team attacked with precision and intensity to leave Australia on life support at the end of a muggy and overcast day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The lion-hearted Pat Cummins thwarted India’s hopes of closing out the win with a day to spare, anchoring some stubborn tail-end resistance after the top order crumbled.
The seamer was 61 not out, a personal best, with Nathan Lyon on six, and Australia still 141 runs short of victory.
Some rain is forecast on day five, but after dominating with bat and ball, the tourists will almost certainly head to the Sydney finale with a 2-1 series lead and a genuine belief they can become the first Indian team to win a series Down Under.
“Obviously we wanted to finish it today but our bowlers will get enough breaks and hopefully finish it off tomorrow in the first hour,” said India number three Cheteshwar Pujara, whose 106 in the first innings was his second century of the series.
“We have a very good chance of winning the series and the last test match will be crucial for us. But first things first, we will look to finish the job early tomorrow.”
On a grim day for Australian cricket, Cummins was the only shining light, impressing with the bat after registering career-best figures of 6-27 before Kohli declared India’s second innings at 106-8 in the morning.
However, the paceman’s heroics will likely be consigned to a foot-note, squandered as they were by the specialist batsmen that came before him.
Where straight bats were required to provide a platform of resistance, Aaron Finch got his team off to the worst possible start by throwing away his wicket for three with an unsightly cut shot off Jasprit Bumrah that was gobbled in the slips.
Recalled all-rounder Mitchell Marsh was similarly wasteful, slogging spinner Ravindra Jadeja straight to Kohli at short cover to be out for 10.
Having done the hard work to get set in his innings, Travis Head (34) fell on his sword after tea by dragging Ishant Sharma onto his stumps with a dubious drive away from his body.
Despite assistance from Australia’s poor shot selection, India produced moments of brilliance to remove their more assured batsmen.
Mohammed Shami dismissed Usman Khawaja lbw for 33 shortly after lunch with a peach of a delivery, before Bumrah trapped Shaun Marsh for 44 with a searing ball.
The wily Jadeja proved a constant menace, and induced an edge off Marcus Harris (13) that lodged in Mayank Agarwal’s mid-riff.
The left-arm spinner later returned to dismiss wicketkeeper-captain Tim Paine for 26, leaving Australia to rely on their tail and a miracle to stave off defeat.
“Now our backs are up against the wall, and Pat and I and Josh (Hazlewood) are going to come out tomorrow and we’re going to have to fight,” Lyon added.
“We’ve got to show a lot of pride and go out there and fight our backsides off and show how much it means to wear the baggy green cap.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by John O'Brien