Sydney: Cheteshwar Pujara’s singular lack of intent pushed an injury-ravaged India into a deep hole as Australia tightened the noose with a substantial 197-run lead on a forgettable Saturday for the visitors in the third Test here.
Pujara’s slowest Test half-century, a painstaking 50 off 176 balls, was soon followed by India being bowled out for 244 on the third day with the other batsmen feeling tremendous pressure of a dormant scoreboard.
A first-innings lead of 94 runs provided by the bowlers and some good fielding did help Australia’s cause.
By stumps, Steve Smith (29 batting) and Marnus Labuschagne (47 batting) gave an exhibition of how to bat on slow tracks with Australia reaching 103/2.
Labuschagne, in particular, showed how to bat positively on a dead track hitting six boundaries in 67 balls.
As Shane Warne pointed out during commentary, it would be very difficult to chase any score in excess of 250 with variable bounce and the odd balls keeping low.
Pat Cummins (4/29 in 21.4 overs) was brilliant on an unresponsive track with some effective short-pitched bowling and got good support from Josh Hazlewood (2/43 in 21 overs) and Mitchell Starc (1/61 in 19 overs), having set up a leg-side trap.
Earlier, Pujara’s ultra-defensive approach put tremendous pressure on his colleagues and India never quite got the momentum going as Cummins, Hazlewood and Starc continuously attacked the batsmen -- first with a leg-side field and short-ball strategy and then on the corridor of uncertainty.
Pujara doesn’t play the pull or hook shot well and he wasn’t allowed room to either cut or drive.
The defensive approach also resulted in three run-outs including the one of Hanuma Vihari (4 off 38 balls), who fell short while going for a quick but non-existent single.
It was then left to Ravindra Jadeja (28), who had to throw his bat around to bring the lead down to less than 100 runs, but that is of little comfort considering that India would now have to bat fourth to save the match.
Pant got into the groove quickly but a nasty blow on the forearm did affect his shot- making and the result was a caught behind off Hazlewood, after a 53-run stand in a little over 20 overs.
Pujara, at the other end, was bowled short initially with three men on the leg side and then on the off-side with his cover drive dried up.
Even the drive wide off mid-on didn’t fetch him boundaries. In the first 100 balls, he didn’t have a single boundary.
Finally, after completing his slowest ever half century in Test cricket, Cummins got one to rear up from short of length and it was that one good ball every batsman gets when he is not scoring runs.
From 195 for 4, suddenly it was 210 for eight and there was only Jadeja left to score a few runs....