India's captain Virat Kohli celebrates the dismissal of David Warner on day four in Ranchi.
India's captain Virat Kohli celebrates the dismissal of David Warner on day four in Ranchi. Aijaz Rahi

Australia hanging on after a day of attrition

THE ghost of Alastair Cook is hovering ominously over an exhausted Australia in Ranchi, with Steve Smith's men now under enormous pressure to bat out Monday and save the third Test.

Australia was pushed to breaking point on Sunday, forced to slug it out for a gruelling 210 overs in the field - their most arduous bowling experience in more than four decades - before opener David Warner and nightwatchman Nathan Lyon both had their off-stumps knocked over in the shadows of stumps by Ravi Jadeja.

A manic Virat Kohli celebrated Warner's prized wicket by sprinting past the Australian dressing room grabbing his supposedly injured shoulder in glee - the taunts of a captain who believes his side is charging to victory.

At stumps Australia was hanging on for dear life at 2-23 and still 129 runs from making India bat again, with Smith required to back up and play the innings of his life if his side are to head to a final Test decider in Dharamsala locked at 1-1.

"Obviously we've got to save the game,” said an upbeat coach Darren Lehmann.

"It's tough to lose those two wickets, they were some good balls from them.

"It's a good challenge for the group to put it into practice (what we've worked on) and we've got to do that and deliver on the big stage.

"Once the ball gets a little bit softer it plays pretty well so there's no real demons in the track.

"It's a case of obviously applying ourselves much like Pujara and Saha did today.

"I'm really confident they can do the job and see how they go. We're going to have to come up with a plan to combat Jadeja but we've worked on that and you'll see it (today).

"They've got to believe in what they're doing as a group.”

Only 25 teams in Test history have suffered gut-wrenching defeat after scoring 450 in the first innings, but one of those instances was just before Christmas in Chennai when India came from nowhere to swamp Cook's Englishmen on a dramatic last day.

The draw seems a long, long way away for an Australian side that scored 451 batting first, as a crushing 199-run partnership between Cheteshwar Pujara (202) and Wriddhiman Saha (117) turned the match on its head and put the onus on the tourists to hold their nerve and not crumble as England did.

Australia resumed on day four ahead by 97 runs, but by the time Virat Kohli announced his declaration they were 152 runs behind, thanks largely to Pujara's epic 11-hour knock that kept Smith's weary soldiers out in the field for the best part of two and a half days.

Then it was over to the world's No.1 spinner Ravi Jadeja to continue Warner and Australia's heartache.

Jadeja brutally ended Cook's captaincy career with a barnstorming seven-wicket haul earlier in the summer, and he is the danger man again on a pitch that so far has played as dead as a doorknob.

Warner and Lyon stood no chance as Jadeja found something in a surface that Steve O'Keefe could not in 77 overs of bowling.

In contrast to the rapid-fire affairs in Pune and Bangalore, this Test match has so far produced more than 1000 runs for only 21 wickets - but Australia find themselves on red alert.

Pat Cummins (4-106) looked as though he was set to rip open the Indian tail in just the second over of the day, only for Saha to survive on DRS - and from there Australia's hopes went up in flames in a nightmare day, not taking a wicket until well into the final session.

O'Keefe bowled the most balls ever by an Australian player in a Test innings in India, and the sixth most all time anywhere in the world.

Concerns were also starting to mount about the workload on Cummins (39 overs), who with just one Sheffield Shield match under his belt, will be crucial in Dharamsala.

Australia has competed brilliantly all series but yesterday was by far their most hellish day on tour, with a dropped catch by Matthew Wade and more DRS frustration adding insult to injury.

Pujara's knock was one of the all-time great exhibitions of concentration and resolve, as he chewed up 525 balls at the crease after coming in at No.3 - the most ever by an Indian.

The Australians had a couple of looks at Saha, but Pujara was a brick wall, utterly faultless in an innings which - if it doesn't prove match-winning - could go a long way to pushing the mental state of his opponents to the absolute limits.

In that Chennai Test against England - the second time Cook's side lost in that series scoring in excess of 400 in the first innings - Indian stars Lokesh Rahul (199) and Karun Nair (303) turned the match on its head.

Pujara has played a similarly inspirational role for his side in Ranchi.

Australia can take confidence from the batting aptitude they've displayed all along this tour, and the fact this Ranchi track has been almost completely lifeless.

However, it was a flat pitch in Chennai where England went to lunch on the fifth day 0-97 and went into the last session with six wickets still in hand - only to be rolled by Jadeja with nine overs left in the match.

Jadeja took five wickets in the first innings and is the only spinner in this match who has looked threatening.

Keeper Wade had a poor morning with the gloves, putting down a chance off Saha when the lower order batsman was 51 not out - apologising to bowler O'Keefe for dropping one that should have been caught.

To add to the frustration, captain Steve Smith burnt a review in the final over before lunch off Nathan Lyon's bowling, and Australia now only have one left in the bank for the rest of the day.

Cummins thought he had his fifth wicket with his very first ball of the day, but the lbw decision on Saha was overturned by the third umpire with replays showing it was missing leg.

Lyon also had an lbw decision rewarded to him from umpire Ian Gould, but that too was successfully reviewed by Saha, again going down the leg side.

On a docile pitch Australia will back themselves to bat out the game, but if India's lead becomes too great scoreboard pressure will come into play and the threat of a collapse will be hanging over the top order.

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