By Tristan Lavalette
PERTH (Reuters) – Australia need five wickets in the second test to secure a series-levelling victory as India teetered in their daunting chase on a menacing pitch on Monday.
Chasing 287 runs after closing out Australia’s second innings for 243, India finished day four on 112 for five with Hanuma Vihari 24 not out and Rishabh Pant unbeaten on nine.
Struggling on the Perth Stadium pitch marked by widening cracks, India made a poor start losing the key wickets of Lokesh Rahul for a fourth-ball duck and Cheteshwar Pujara, their first test hero in Adelaide, for four.
India’s faint hopes rested on captain Virat Kohli who counter-attacked with several flowing drives in reminiscent fashion to his masterful first innings of 123.
Kohli combined with opener Murali Vijay to stabilise India before he edged a straight Nathan Lyon delivery to Usman Khawaja at slip for 17, sparking scenes of jubilation from the Australian players.
The off-spinner claimed the India talisman for a record seventh time, the most by a bowler, and in his next over bowled Vijay for 20 off an inside edge.
Ajinkya Rahane played his strokes and combined well with Vihari before the India vice-captain fell just before stumps, slashing a Josh Hazlewood delivery straight to point for 30.
“We are excited to come back tomorrow, but there is a little bit of work to be done,” Hazlewood told reporters. “We just have to stay disciplined and patient. There is enough there in the wicket, we just need to hit the right areas.”
Emotions were frayed at times on the pivotal day four with Australia captain Tim Paine and his counterpart Kohli involved in a heated exchange in the first session forcing umpire Chris Gaffaney to step in.
“Without the banter on field, there is no fun in cricket,” India quick Mohammed Shami said.
The bowling onslaught has Australia on the cusp of snapping a barren six-test run without a win and providing Paine with his first triumph as skipper.
Australia’s bowlers regained firm control of the match after their batsmen had crumbled against Shami in the middle session.
After a wicketless morning session, India came alive through blistering short-pitched bowling from Shami, who made the ball steeple off the deteriorating wicket to finish with a career-best 6-56.
Australia spectacularly lost four wickets for six runs starting with Paine (37) falling to a vicious short ball from Shami, which spat off the pitch hitting the glove and ballooned to slip.
Shami was on a hat-trick when he had Aaron Finch caught behind down the leg-side in a fleeting resumption for the opener.
Finch retired hurt on day three on 25 after being struck on the glove by a searing short ball from Shami but X-Rays cleared him of serious injury to his right index finger.
Shami was denied the hat-trick but soon claimed his fifth wicket with another menacing bouncer that caught Khawaja’s glove to be caught behind for 72.
Australia’s lead was 250 before Hazlewood (17 not out) and Mitchell Starc (14) added an invaluable 36 runs for the last wicket.
The pyrotechnics contrasted a sedate morning session dominated by Australia, who grabbed control of a fluctuating match with Khawaja and Paine batting through to lunch.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)