Australia, India headed for thrilling final session with Test in balance


India’s Cheteshwar Pujara survived a brutal onslaught from the Australian pace attack as the series-deciding fourth Test hung in the balance at tea on the final day at the Gabba on Tuesday.

Needing 328 to pull off a historic win at the Gabba, injury-hit India were 183 for three at the break, with Pujara not out on 43 and Rishabh Pant on 10.

While a draw is still the most likely outcome, the visitors’ decision to send Pant in ahead of Mayank Agarwal shows they are still eyeing off what would be an epochal victory.

Australia are unbeaten at Brisbane’s Gabba since 1988, and suffered their first home Test series defeat by India two years ago. The series is currently locked at 1-1.

Australia took two wickets after lunch, with Shubman Gill falling for a superb 91 and skipper Ajinkya Rahane a quickfire 24.

Pujara was hit 10 times during the first two sessions as Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood tried to exploit a perceived weakness to short balls at the body.

He took blows to the fingers, arm, ribs and helmet during a searching examination of his technique. But he was able to hang in as the batsmen at the other end scored freely and ate into the target.

Gill was magnificent on a fifth-day wicket, smashing the Australian bowlers to all corners of the ground. He hit eight fours and two towering sixes in his 146-ball innings before he became Nathan Lyon’s 398th Test victim, edging an arm ball to first slip where Steve Smith took a sharp catch.

With Pujara putting down the anchor at one end, Rahane raced to 24 from just 22 balls.

But trying to glide a Cummins short ball over the slips, he only managed to get a faint edge to Australian ‘keeper Tim Paine to leave India 167 for three.

High injury toll

India started the morning on four for no loss after bowling Australia out for 294 just before rain stopped play late on the fourth day.

Australia’s hopes of a series-clinching victory were raised early when Cummins drew Rohit Sharma forward to a ball that caught the outside edge, Paine taking a fine diving catch in front of first slip.

But the wickets have been few and far between and at tea both teams still have a chance at winning. The highest run chase to achieve victory at the Gabba is the 236 that Australia scored to beat the West Indies in 1951.

But as India have shown since their disastrous capitulation in the first Test in Adelaide, when they were bowled out for 36, they are never out of the contest.

The four-Test series is tied at 1-1 with Australia winning the opening Test in Adelaide and India fighting back to claim the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne and batting through the final day in Sydney to secure a draw.

Their effort in the fourth Test is even more admirable considering the high injury toll on tour.

Their bowling attack was led by Mohammad Siraj, who debuted in Melbourne, supported by Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur, T. Natarajan and Washington Sundar, who had two Tests between them heading into Brisbane.

They were also missing captain Virat Kohli, who went home after the first Test to be with his wife for the birth of his first child.

The tourists are without the services of front-line seamers Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Japrit Bumrah and regular spin bowlers Ravi Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin.