Ranchi: Cheteshwar Pujara carried his bat through the day and carved out a defiant century to keep India afloat at 360 for six against Australia in a Test that was tantalisingly-poised after his exemplary display of grit and discipline.
At stumps on the third day of the ongoing third Test, India trailed Australia by 91 runs with four wickets remaining at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA) stadium.
Resuming at their overnight score of 120 for one, India were left to rely on the solidity of Pujara, whose 11th Test ton proved to be the fulcrum around which the home team's innings was built after the cheap dismissal of skipper Virat Kohli (6).
Australia will be pleased that they conceded not more than 240 runs on a wicket where shot-making is much easier than in the first two Tests.
In all, India lost four wickets on the day. Batting on 10 overnight, Pujara absorbed the pressure and built his innings beautifully as he struck his 11th Test century in a top class display of grit and gumption.
Pujara's undefeated stay at the crease spanned six hours and 52 minutes and he faced 328 balls, hitting 17 boundaries. Giving him support at the other end at close was Wriddhiman Saha on 18 from 42 balls.
Josh Hazlewood (1/66) gave a fine breakthrough in the final session after he knocked over the off-stump of Karun Nair (23) with an angled delivery, using the width of his bowling crease.
Nair looked elegant in his 44-run partnership with Pujara and being the last recognised batsman, it was a blow to India's revival plan.
Australia's most successful bowler of the day – Pat Cummins (4/59) – at the other end dismissed Ravichandran Ashwin (3) after the visitors successfully used a review.
After that, Saha gave perfect support to Pujara as they saw off the day without any hiccup.
Earlier, Pujara and Murali Vijay (82) executed the team's plan perfectly in their 102-run second-wicket stand, their sixth century-plus partnership in 10 Tests this home season.
The duo almost saw through the first session before Vijay was tempted by Steeve O'Keefe to step out of the crease to be stumped at the stroke of lunch.
Returning to action after his freak shoulder injury on day one, Kohli (6 from 23 balls) had a testing 37 minutes' vigil at the crease before his soft dismissal by Cummins immediately after the new ball was taken in the 81st over.
During his stay in the middle, Kohli never looked his usual self as the Australian spinners bowled in tandem.
Left-arm spinner O'Keefe attacked Kohli on the roughs outside the leg, hoping to get a leading edge.
Australia took the second new ball immediately after 80 overs and Cummins earned the prized wicket of the India skipper.
Kohli went for an expansive drive outside the off stump and the ball flew towards second slip where Smith held on to the catch at shoulder height. The Aussie camp jumped in joy at seeing the back of the danger man.
The Australian pace duo gave regular breakthroughs, using short-pitched deliveries and extracting reverse swing, even as the spinners looked innocuous at a venue hosting its maiden Test.
Cummins used his short ball effectively and Australia used the pacer to break partnership.
With the four-match series locked at 1-1, India need 91 runs to overcome the deficit and take an upper hand in their bid to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
On a day when the pitch played out easy barring the extra bounce and reverse swing extracted by the Aussie pacers, a determined Pujara held India's innings together.
There were some anxious moments early on as he survived on 22 while trying to play a forward defence only to be trapped in front.
The appeal was turned down by umpire Chris Gaffaney as Australia, having exhausted their reviews in the first 80 overs, were left frustrated.
Luckily for Pujara, he appeared to have got an inside edge though replays did not confirm whether it was bat or pad first.
In the very next ball, Vijay, on 58, had a clear inside edge which was taken at short leg, but umpire Ian Gould did not seem impressed.
Australia had their first unsuccessful review in the 39th over, when their call for bat-pad catch against Vijay was turned down on Friday.
After Kohli's dismissal, Ajinkya Rahane (14) looked to give Pujara support as the duo completed a 50-plus partnership.
But Rahane could not convert his start and got out in an irresponsible manner while attempting an uppercut against a short-pitched Cummins delivery.
Pujara, however, remained unperturbed and went on to notch up his second hundred against Australia, and the first by an Indian in the ongoing series, with a classical cover driven boundary against Cummins.