Australia’s wicketkeeper-captain Tim Paine was involved in three of four dropped catches on the day, two of them to reprieve Pant on 3 and 56.
Facing the target of 407, India finished with 334-5, losing only three wickets for 236 runs in 97 overs on the day to score a huge moral victory. If cricket deserves to be called the great leveller, the game of glorious uncertainties and the sport closest to life, this Test showcased it all.
The four heroes on the day – Pant, Pujara, Ashwin and Vihari – had fumbled in the first innings but redeemed themselves in great fashion.
Paine seemed to have got all his opening moves right on the fifth day when he started with the right field placings, a good line of attack, his best two bowlers in Cummins and Lyon.
Australia also got the crucial breakthrough of Rahane, caught at short leg off Lyon. But by promoting the left-handed and far more attacking Pant ahead of Vihari, the Indian team management proved that they hadn’t abandoned smart thinking or optimism.
His smashing knock added another dramatic dimension to the script. Pant started with just five runs off first 34 balls. But once he changed gears, the Aussies attack was almost forced to err and made to look ordinary, and their field placing turned defensive.
His high strike-rate, coupled with Pujara at the other end managing to score boundaries without crossing his defensive orbit was the hallmark of their partnership.
Pant (97; 118b, 12×4, 3×6) and Pujara (77; 205b, 12×4) added 148 runs in 43.3 overs and at one point, even a victory became a probability for India as they needed just 157 runs in 53 overs with seven wickets in hand.
Just before the second new ball was due, India were in the driver’s seat with all four results possible. But the visitors lost the momentum as Pant was dismissed trying to force the issue.
After Pujara’s departure, only a draw and an Australian win remained probable results.
Pujara’s straight drives and cover drive off Cummins and upper cut off Starc were outstanding. Pant toyed with Lyon, hitting him for two consecutive sixes, the first inside out over extra-cover and then a jab over long on.
When Pant got out, caught at backward point when trying hit a lofted drive off Lyon, an Indian collapse was a real possibility.
But an injured Vihari (23*; 161b) and Ashwin (39*; 128b) then batted as if their lives depended on the outcome of the match. They added only 62 runs but batted for four hours and 63 overs together.
The Aussies bowled their hearts out. Cummins and Hazlewood bowled 26 overs each. The former bowled fuller and in the corridor of uncertainty, using the short ball well. Hazlewood castled Pujara with a beauty that angled in.
Lyon bowled 46 overs, and was treated differently by Pujara and Ashwin. The former didn’t allow the offie to settle down with his quick use of feet. Ashwin played Lyon largely within his crease: with copybook forward defence reaching to the pitch of the ball or late on the backfoot, largely with the turn.
Knowing that injured Ravindra Jadeja wouldn’t be able to bat at his best, Vihari and Ashwin batted like warriors, taking blows on the fingers, ribcage, groin, abdomen and arm.
The Indian duo devised the plan as they batted along: Ashwin played Lyon and Vihari, who batted through a hamstring injury, faced the faster bowlers.