India's Ajinkya Rahane revived his international career with a courageous effort in seaming conditions but it could not prevent Australia from extending their supremacy in the World Test Championship final here on Friday.
Playing his first Test in 18 months and with his side's back against the wall, Rahane weathered a hostile spell from Australian pacers on way to a memorable 89 off 129 balls on the third day and took India to 296 all out from 152 for six.
His 109-run partnership for the sixth wicket with Shardul Thakur (51 off 109) kept India in the game but Australia still managed to take a massive 173-run lead.
At stumps, Australia extended their lead to 296 runs by reaching 123 for four in 44 overs in their second innings. Marnus Labuschagne (41 batting) and Cameron Green (7 batting) were in the middle.
The pitch continues to offer seam movement but the spinners also came into play on Friday with Ravindra Jadjea taking two wickets and reigniting the debate on R Ashwin's non-selection for the title clash.
Mohammed Siraj was the standout Indian pacer once again as he got rid of David Warner (1) with a ball that seamed away from off-stump and took the edge on way to the wicketkeeper. Usman Khawaja's second failure of the game came after a loose drive off Umesh Yadav.
A rare positive from India's point of view was that Australia's first innings centurions Steve Smith (34) and Travis Head (18) departed in quick succession. Umesh made a mess of a regulation catch offered by Head at deep midwicket but Jadeja had him caught and bowled in the same over.
Smith had a rare lapse in concentration and his attempted slog led to him being caught by Thakur.
It will take a special effort from India to bounce back in the game but Rahane showed that runs could be scored against a formidable pace attack. His gritty innings had 11 fours and a spectacular six over fine leg off opposition captain Pat Cummins.
Rahane could not add to his tally after the lunch break, and having once again delivered in challenging overseas conditions, fell to a stunning one-handed catch by Green at gully.
Rahane went through with the shot away from his body off Cummins and a diving Green plucked the flying ball out of thin air for an excellent catch.
Thakur was able to get to his third half century at The Oval with a couple of straight drives off Cummins. India's tail hardly put up any resistance and the team was bowled out midway into the second session.
In the morning, Rahane stood tall amid the ruins in his comeback game as he showed remarkable skill and courage against a hostile Australian pace attack. But India remained behind in the game despite the resilience of Rahane and Thakur's much- needed support.
Thakur also survived two nasty blows on his forearm and was dropped twice as India managed to score 109 runs in the 22 overs bowled in the first session.
The way Scott Boland and Cummins got the ball to kick off length in the first hour, one could sense a wicket off every ball.
Boland ripped through the defense of K S Bharat on the second ball of the day as the Indian wicketkeeper had no answer to a delivery that jagged back in sharply from length.
Cummins looked equally threatening from the other end and hit Thakur's forearm back-to-back with extra bounce, forcing the batter to seek the physio's intervention.
Like Thakur, Rahane too had luck going his way as he was dropped by Warner at first slip when he was on 72.
After getting a few streaky boundaries, Rahane got to his fifty with a spectacular six off Cummins over fine leg. The Australian skipper angled one into his body and Rahane made room to pull it for a maximum.
His best shot of the morning however was a cover drive off Green, and it came after a thick edge that flew over the slip cordon, showing that one had to take his chances on this wicket.
The final moments of the morning session were full of action. Rahane got consecutive fours off Nathon Lyon via a back foot punch and a crisp drive through the cover.
The last over before lunch saw Thakur being adjudged lbw but it ended up being a no ball from Cummins. The Aussie skipper had also overstepped after trapping Rahane in front of the stumps on day two.
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