High five Mohammed Siraj
Shardul, Siraj keep India in hunt for series win; Oz sets 328-run victory target
Brisbane: Indian pacers Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur produced another inspirational effort in adverse circumstances but India were set a challenging target of 328 by Australia as the Border-Gavaskar Trophy headed towards an exhilarating finale in the fourth Test here.
The target is a tricky one and the Indian batsmen would get a fair idea whether to go for it by lunch on the final day, which is Tuesday. This was after Siraj and Thakur combined to share nine wickets while dismissing Australia for 294 in their second innings. Siraj (19.5-5-73-5) punched way above his weight with his maiden five-wicket haul but couldn't prevent Australia from posting an imposing target for his team in only 75.5 overs of the second innings batting.
At stumps, India were 4 for no loss with Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill at the crease. The highest target chased at Brisbane is 236 and that was seven decades ago which is an indicator why this Australian ground can be equated with Fort Knox. The home team hasn't lost a game here since 1988.
Thakur's dream Test match also got better with figures of 4/61 and a match haul of seven wickets. The most poignant moment was his apparent joy when he took the catch to help Siraj pip him to the coveted five-for landmark.
As Siraj showed that scuffed red kookaburra acknowledging the 957 people in the stands on the first working day of the week, the most generous applause came from his partner in crime, who walked a foot behind him clapping with gusto.
It was the kind of day that Test aficionados wait eagerly -- ebbs and flows keeping everyone on the edge of their seats.
The possibility of rain adds to the excitement and the changing weather did affect the contours of Australia skipper Tim Paine's facial expressions which exhibited relief and despair in equal measures.
Among the two captains, Paine is supposed to be the enforcer but this Indian team hasn't stopped surprising its detractors with a spirit, which has made this series one of the finest played in recent times.
If Weather Gods don't decide to play the boss, there will be an official winner but certainly not a "loser". This is the first Indian team which has earned well-wishers in exponential numbers for soldiering on manfully without any complaints.
A bowling attack with less than four-Test experience (if Thakur's debut is discounted) got 20 wickets without being over-expensive. Yes, a Mohammed Shami or Jasprit Bumrah's experience would have been invaluable but their absence showed that in terms of temperament, India's next batch of pacers are game-ready.
Yes, they would make mistakes but their predecessors also made plenty on their way to glory. The two top quality deliveries that Siraj produced got rid of opposition's two best batsmen -- Marnus Labuschagne (25 off 22 balls) and Steve Smith (55 off 74 balls). Both deliveries were different from each other like chalk and cheese.
Labuschagne got a fuller delivery on the off-stump that moved in a shade and he jabbed at it with Rohit Sharma taking a smart catch at second slip. For Smith, who was on the offensive, Siraj produced what in cricketing parlance is known as the "heavy ball" or the "effort ball".
The one that climbed and grew big on Smith and forced him to lob one at gully for rival skipper Ajinkya Rahane. But there was a time during the morning session when Siraj was either being pulled or driven through covers imperiously as David Warner (48 off 75 balls) and Marcus Harris (38 off 82 balls) took control to send him and T Natarajan on a leather-hunt.
Between them, they ad hit 14 boundaries, 11 of them on the day. And then it was Thakur, who despite his 5 feet 7 inch frame, bounced Harris into swaying. The brush off gloves went to Rishabh Pant. In the very next over, Warner, who was in sight of his first half-century of the series, was rapped on the backfoot by Washington who bowled one that kept straight.
The opener ended up being cramped for room on the back-foot while going for the cut shot. Four wickets fell in the session as India got back into the match. The second session saw Smith up the ante before Siraj delivered and another three wickets. A few missed catches made it an exciting contest.