David Warner will spearhead Australia’s battle with the clock and India in Brisbane, where a 21-year-old debutant and tailender in his second Test rocked their bid to reclaim the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
The hosts will resume at 21 without loss with a 54-run lead on day four of the series-deciding fourth Test. Warner is unbeaten on 20 after slapping three consecutive boundaries in a six-over burst preceding stumps on Sunday.
Tim Paine’s team must win the Gabba Test to end India’s four-year hold of the Border-Gavaskar trophy. That challenge became more imposing when Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur shifted momentum in scarcely-believable fashion, even by the standards set in a topsy-turvy series level at 1-1.
Sundar and Thakur’s 123-run stand rallied India from 186-6 to 336. Wet weather forecast to interrupt days four and five, has added another degree of urgency. The timing of Monday’s declaration, presuming Australia are in a position to make one, will be one of the biggest calls of Paine’s captaincy.
“Probably depends on who bats. If Davey (Warner) bats for a long time then things happen pretty quickly,” Josh Hazlewood said after snaring 5-57. “It’ll be pretty similar to maybe Sydney; three and a half or maybe four sessions (to bowl India out).”
Thakur’s rollicking 67 belied a first-class batting average of 16, while Sundar’s composed 62 was likewise stunning. It was the latest sign an inexperienced Indian XI, in which Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane are the only members who also took part in the series-opening defeat, will not buckle despite the absence of captain Virat Kohli and other key personnel.
Australia had been in the box seat to claim a far more imposing first-innings lead than 33 after removing Pujara, Rahane and Rishabh Pant. The second new ball, taken in the shadows of tea, proved little help.
The magnitude of Sundar and Thakur’s efforts, kickstarted when the latter got off the mark by hooking Cummins for six, will soon become clear. But the duo, with a combined one Test worth of experience before being called up amid India’s four enforced changes for the series finale, have already inflicted several blows to Australia’s morale and key men.
Paine dropped a sharp one-handed chance when Sundar was on 45, with the tourists 272-6, and squandered two reviews after a week in which his tactics and tetchiness were criticised.
Nathan Lyon’s pursuit of 400 wickets in his 100th Test gathered no momentum on Sunday. If Australia close out a series victory they will owe Hazlewood and Cummins, who bowled Thakur to snap the game-changing partnership, a debt of gratitude.