To understand the enormity of the task, here’s a telling stat: In the last two decades, India have batted for at least 100 overs in the fourth innings of an away Test only once – against England at Lord’s in 2002 when they lasted 109.4 overs but still comfortably lost.
With the score at stumps on the fourth day being 98/2 after 34 overs, the equation is that they need another 309 runs from 97 overs likely to be bowled on the final day. While Ravindra Jadeja is unlikely to bat unless necessary after dislocating his left thumb, Rishabh Pant had a blow to his left elbow and may not be at his most effective. The wicket of Rohit Sharma, who had moved along to 52 off 98, towards the end of the fourth day wasn’t ideal either from India’s perspective as he could have made a dent into the target in the first session on Monday.
So how will India approach the fifth day? According to off-spinner R Ashwin, that call cannot be taken at the start of the day’s play. Instead, the focus will be to “play the ball on merit” and hopefully put themselves in a situation in the final session where they can have a go at the target.
“In a Test, you don’t look at the overall score going into the final day and say we must go for a win. There are different passages of play to encounter and we are playing on a fifth-day pitch. Sometimes when you play the ball on merit and have the hunger to get in, you put yourself in a situation in the final session where you can have a go at it. But you cannot go into the morning session saying we will make 300 today,” Ashwin said after play on Sunday.
In Pics: Australia push India further back on Day 4 in Sydney
<p>On a day that saw Australia take further control of the third Test, crowd behaviour at SCG and Australia setting India a mammoth 407 to win made the most news (AFP Photo)<br /></p>
The current Indian team has often stressed the need to have the mindset of going for victory rather than playing out a draw when faced with such situations on the final day. The 2014 Adelaide Test, of course, is a prime example. But as Ashwin pointed out, the circumstances back then played out that way. It took Virat Kohli to play one of his special knocks while getting assistance from M Vijay for India to entertain thoughts of a win that ultimately proved unsuccessful.
“When we spoke about it in Adelaide, we were off to a good start and the game paced itself that way. We did believe that we can get it because we felt the score was in our range. Here too, we will still believe that we can do it because that belief is very important. The pitch has been quite slow and it has been good to bat. The frequency of balls that we saw misbehave on Day 3 has also come down. The roller has played a role. With the sun belting down now, the pitch is getting better to bat,” the 34-year-old mentioned.