If he was going by the old saying 'a job well begun is half done,' Cheteshwar Pujara had genuine reasons to worry. In the first eight balls he faced on the third day of the second Test in Bengaluru, he got lucky thrice against Nathan Lyon.
First, a sharp outside edge went quickly to the wicket-keeper who could only get his pad in the way -- it looped up and fell in the vacant silly point region. Next, an attempted back-foot flick took the inside edge, hit his pad, looped up and fell agonisingly short of Peter Handscomb at short-leg. Then, another outside edge -- it missed the keeper, went to Steve Smith at first slip, hit him flush on the palm -- but the Australian captain could not hang on to it. After the way he caught KL Rahul, Smith would himself consider that a dropped chance.
Pujara survived those eight balls. India survived. He went on to bat for 165 more balls. At stumps on day three, he remained unbeaten on 79. Unbeaten by Australia's bowling. Unbeaten by bad luck. Unbeaten by an awkward pitch.
Much like Pujara's innings, the day did not begin well for India. Nearly 50 minutes into the day, they were still searching for the first breakthrough. Mitchell Starc and Matthew Wade were threatening to put on a stand big enough to put India under immense pressure. But Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin combined to take the last four wickets in the space of five overs. The lead, though sizable, did not reach three figures. When the game was beginning to slip away, Jadeja pulled it back with a six-wicket haul. India went into lunch without losing their openers.
Much like Pujara's innings, the second session did not begin well for India. Abhinav Mukund's Test comeback ended up being forgettable. And then Pujara looked like he was going to follow suit. Then came a little phase where KL Rahul, India's best batsman in the series, shielded Pujara from Lyon. He took the bulk of the strike, defending assuredly and stealing singles at the end of the over. Pujara settled down. India settled down.
Much like the rest of the innings this series, India's batting order started to collapse. Rahul, who barely put a foot wrong in his third half century of the series, fell to Smith's brilliance in the slip. The scorecard will show it was Steve O'Keefe's wicket but it belonged to the Australian captain as much as it did to the bowler. Virat Kohli soon followed suit, taking his aggregate to 40 runs in four innings, dismissed in controversial circumstances. Ravindra Jadeja was promoted to No. 5, presumably given the freedom to attack, but he survived just 12 balls. India were reduced to 33 for 4.
But unlike what we had seen so far from the Indian batsmen, Ajinkya Rahane and Pujara began to fight it out in the middle. A partnership that began before tea, remained unbroken at stumps.
For the first time this series, India had a partnership higher than 61. For the first time this series, India went past 200. For the first time in the series, either team had a partnership higher than 82. For the first time in the series, no wicket fell in a full session of play.
For the first time in the series, India showed they are ready for the challenge, willing to spend time in the middle, grind it out on a pitch that did not lend itself to, well, grinding.
It is hard to quantify luck in cricket, but it felt as if India started getting the rub of the green. It is hard to quantify fight and intent, but for the first time in the series, the Indian batsmen showed they were ready to stand up and be counted when the chips were down.