Virat Kohli defied Australia on Saturday to give India hope of an extraordinary win in the World Test Championship final at The Oval.
India were 164-3 at stumps, still needing a further 280 runs to reach what would be a record-breaking total of 444 on Sunday’s scheduled fifth and final day.
Star batsman Kohli was 44*, while Ajinkya Rahane was unbeaten on 20 after he had already marked his first Test in over a year by top-scoring with 89 in India’s first-innings 296.
The scale of India’s task was emphasised by the fact that only four teams in 146 years of Test cricket have made more than 400 to win in the fourth innings, with the West Indies’ 418-7 against Australia at St John’s in 2003 the highest such total.
Australia, by contrast, require just seven more wickets Sunday to win the only major global trophy to have so far eluded them and ensure they head into next week’s Ashes opener against England at Edgbaston in buoyant mood.
India captain Rohit Sharma set the initial tone for a daunting chase with several boundaries, including a pulled six off left-arm quick Mitchell Starc.
But on the stroke of tea, opening partner Shubman Gill fell to a controversial catch when Cameron Green, who had taken an undisputed blinder in the first innings to remove Rahane, dived low to his left following an edge off Scott Boland.
The decision was referred by the on-field umpires to TV official Richard Kettleborough.
And with the ‘soft signal’ recently abolished, there was no on-field guidance for Kettleborough to follow in determining if the ball had brushed the turf after Green had grabbed hold.
Kettleborough eventually ruled in Australia’s favour, prompting chants of “cheats, cheats, cheats” from the massed ranks of India fans in a crowd of nearly 25,000 when the decision was flashed up on The Oval’s giant screens.
Rohit and Cheteshwar Pujara continued to attack Australia’s quicks as India looked to go one better after losing the inaugural 2021 WTC final to New Zealand in Southampton.
Spin, however, proved Rohit’s undoing on a wearing pitch when he missed an attempted sweep against Nathan Lyon, bowling from around the wicket, with the batsman lbw for 43 off 60 balls despite his review.
India lost another wicket without adding another run when Pujara, renowned as a patient accumulator of runs, attempted an extravagant upper-cut off Australia captain Pat Cummins only to guide a simple catch to wicketkeeper Alex Carey as he fell for 27.
But Kohli regained the initiative for India by clipping and driving Starc for boundaries greeted by chants of “Kohli, Kohli, Kohli” from his adoring fans in the stands.
Earlier, Australia made 270-8 in their second innings before Cummins declared.
Marnus Labuschagne, the world’s top-ranked Test batsman, departed for his overnight 41 when he tentatively edged Umesh Yadav to Pujara at first slip.
Ravindra Jadeja, who had accounted for first-innings century-makers Steve Smith and Travis Head on Friday, again bowled well, with the left-arm spinner removing Green for 25 in a return of 3-58 in 23 overs.
Jadeja’s miserly haul may have left India questioning their decision to omit star off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, the world’s top-ranked Test bowler, in order to play an extra seamer.
But Carey, missed in the slips on 41, played Pujara well while top-scoring with 66* after adding a valuable seventh-wicket stand of 93 with the hard-hitting Starc (41).