Shubman Gill gave ample display of his immense talent with a stylish hundred but India's batting unit didn't fully press home the advantage, ending the third day at 289 for three against Australia in the fourth Test, here Saturday.
Gill, who batted for nearly six hours scored a chanceless 128 off 235 balls, hit 12 sweetly-timed boundaries apart from a lofted six off Nathan Lyon to justify his selection in playing XI ahead of K.L. Rahul but India scored only 256 runs in 90 overs. The hosts are still 191 runs behind Australia's first innings total of 480.
Leading the series 2-1, India needs a 3-1 series win to qualify for the World Test Championship final.
If India lose this match and Sri Lanka wins their ongoing series against New Zealand 2-0 then the island nation will qualify for the WTC final against Australia.
In case India plays a draw, and Sri Lanka fail to win 2-0, the WTC final will be between India and Australia in June at the Oval.
All eyes will be on Virat Kohli (59 batting off 128 balls), who looked purposeful and confident during his two-hour-plus stay at the crease, on the third day. There was no celebration after the completion of his 29th half-century in Test cricket.
The pace of his partnership with Ravindra Jadeja (16 batting, 54 balls) will set the narrative for the final couple of days. The Indian team management is probably mulling batting the entire fourth day and try to get a lead in excess of 150 in order to unleash the spinners on the final day, when a significant turn will be on offer.
As of now, the pitch continues to be firm but also on the slower side.
As the SG Test ball gets older, scoring becomes increasingly difficult and Australia took a cue from India. Till 93 overs were bowled, Steve Smith didn't take the second new ball, preventing India from getting some easy runs. But the day certainly belonged to Gill, who is currently going through a purple patch in his career.
In a space of less than two months (since January 15, 2023), he has scored five international hundreds across three formats.
The pleasing aspect of his batting is how languid he is as he holds the shape when he drives through the off-side. He can also play the sweep and reverse sweep effectively without taking any unnecessary risk.
Gauging the slowness of the track, Gill was standing well outside his crease. The purpose was to meet the deliveries early as staying inside the crease would mean the ball would take an extra second to reach and in turn, stroke-making would be difficult.
That was the reason, he scored his first 40 to 45 runs quickly but once Australian skipper Smith got a hang, he got Alex Carey to stand up to the stumps to pacer Cameron Green in order to stop him from converting back of the length deliveries into half-volleys.
Gill was stuck in 70s for a long time before he upped the ante to reach the nervous 90s. He first stepped out and hit the ball over Lyon's head for a boundary before playing a paddle scoop over to complete his ton.
The hallmark of a great batter is adaptability and that is where Gill is a cut above his peers.
On tracks with pace, one would find him stay beside the line of the ball and try to ride the bounce. On sub-continental track, he would get his full body behind the line of the ball.
He did step out time and again to disturb Lyon's (1/75) line. Todd Murphy (1/45) was easily the best Australian spinner on the day.
Australian skipper Smith didn't do anything wrong tactically but not giving Matt Kuhnemann (1/43) any spell between lunch and tea was a bit surprising after he had got Indian captain Rohit Sharma (35 off 58 balls) in the morning session.
Earlier, Sharma looked in good flow as he pulled Mitchell Starc behind square for a six and ran well between the wickets during the 21-over stand with Gill.
The mode of dismissal was disappointing as the delivery from Kuhnemann wasn't a wicket-taking one. It was pitched short and Sharma could have hit it anywhere but his uppish back-foot punch found Marnus Labuschagne at short extra cover.
In case of Cheteshwar Pujara (42 off 121 balls), the stand of 113 was significant but he also got stuck in the post-lunch session and a bit more intent from him during that phase could have seen India scoring 300 runs for the day.