Pujara, Cummins leave Test on even footing
India 360 for 6 (Pujara 130*, Vijay 82, Rahul 67, Cummins 4-59) trail Australia 451 by 91 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Pat Cummins and Cheteshwar Pujara fought an absorbing duel for supremacy in Ranchi on a day when nothing came easily for either side. Australia sought to squeeze India's first innings with tight bowling throughout and Cummins' impact bursts, but by the close Pujara had inched the hosts to within 91 of their opponents' tally.
Nearly six years after his debut Test against South Africa in Johannesburg, Cummins bowled spells of the highest quality with both new and old ball, claiming the wickets of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and R Ashwin, the latter with a pair of prancing short deliveries. Josh Hazlewood supported him gamely, but admiration for Cummins' work was mixed with concern for how his body will recover from these exertions given he was rushed into the team after just one Sheffield Shield match.
Pujara's innings demonstrated intense concentration and mirrored the rhythms of the day. He defended stoutly in the morning, attacked the second new ball to accelerate to his hundred in the afternoon, and then shut shop in the evening as he tried to soak up time and overs in the company of the lower order while gradually eating into Australia's advantage.
His most substantial support came from M Vijay, who helped build a strong platform aided by a strong dose of good fortune when both he and Pujara might have been out in the space of two balls from Steve O'Keefe and Nathan Lyon, on a pitch that is starting to show the faintest traces of deterioration.
O'Keefe appeared to strike Pujara in front of the stumps with the last ball of the 58th over, and the captain Steven Smith chose to review the not-out verdict. However, the appeal was declined though Ultra Edge evidence suggested the ball may have struck the pad before the bat by the smallest of margins.
First ball of Lyon's next over, Vijay was caught at short leg but the appeal was declined, and with no reviews left as a result of the previous delivery, the video evidence of an inside edge onto pad was unable to be accessed. That sequence frustrated the Australians and allowed Vijay and Pujara to lift the scoring rate considerably in the lead-up to the lunch interval. Their stand was worth 102 when Vijay advanced unsuccessfully to O'Keefe and was well stumped by Matthew Wade in the last over of the morning.
Kohli walked onto the field after lunch for the first time since he suffered a shoulder injury on the first day when fielding, an ailment that has required plenty of treatment, scans and also a painkilling injection. He found little sympathy from Australia, who maintained their stranglehold on his run-making by keeping him tied down until Cummins took the second new ball.
Glenn Maxwell dived to save a Pujara boundary - ironically in more or less the same spot where Kohli had been injured two days before - and the resulting three put India's captain on strike, whereupon he drove at his first ball from Cummins and edged to an exultant Smith at second slip.
Australia's celebrations continued when Rahane edged a half-hearted attempt to upper cut Cummins through to Wade, but Pujara was able to go on to his century in some style with a cover-driven boundary. Karun Nair too made a positive start to his innings as India's total passed 300. In all, 110 runs flowed during the session.
Australia tightened their bowling once again on resumption, starving Pujara and Nair of the opportunity to capitalise on what should have been a tiring attack after tea. Hazlewood had found reverse swing at various junctures of the innings, and it was a sharply swerving ball that found a narrow gap between Nair's bat and pad to send the off stump cartwheeling.
Like Kohli, Ashwin has been unable to repeat his batting feats of this season against Australia, and he was to fall to another venomous short ball from Cummins that gently grazed the gloves as the batsman tried to drop his hands away from harm. This time the DRS did go the way of Australia, as Ultra Edge showed a spike as the ball passed the gloves. Ashwin evidently did not agree and walked off the field an angry man.
The episode did not distract Pujara, who formed the start of a potentially useful stand with the wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha as the shadows lengthened and the day petered out. Smith oddly did not try Lyon in the closing overs, but walked off satisfied that a couple of quick wickets on the fourth morning could still open the match up for Australia.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig