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Australia frustrated as unheralded India duo put series decider on a knife's edge

A 21-year-old debutant and a bowler in his second Test have helped India rock Australia’s bid to reclaim the Border-Gavaskar trophy in Brisbane, where the hosts will resume on day four 21-0 with a 54-run lead.

Josh Hazlewood finished with a haul of 5-57, having led the way as Australia reduced India to 186-6 in the post-lunch session on day three of the series-deciding fourth Test. Australia had removed Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant, while they had the security blanket of a second new ball to come in the shadows of tea.

But Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur shifted momentum in scarcely believable fashion, even by the standards set in a topsy-turvy series level at 1-1 with two days remaining. India were eventually rolled for 336 after a rollicking 67 from Thakur, whose first-class batting average was 16 from 62 games, and Sundar’s composed 62 on Test debut.

David Warner, who slapped three consecutive boundaries, and Marcus Harris negotiated six overs before stumps on Sunday.

Tim Paine’s team are locked in a race against the clock in Brisbane, where they must win the final Test to end India’s four-year hold of the Border-Gavaskar trophy. Wet weather, which washed out Saturday’s final session and is forecast to interrupt days four and five, has added another degree of urgency to the scenario.

The magnitude of Sundar and Thakur’s 123-run stand, kickstarted when the latter got off the mark by hooking Pat Cummins for six, will become clear at the end of the game.

Josh Hazlewood celebrates taking the wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara.
Josh Hazlewood celebrates taking the wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara. Photograph: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

But the duo, with a combined one Test worth of experience before being called up as two of four enforced changes for the series finale, have already inflicted several blows to Australia’s morale and key men. Paine dropped a sharp one-handed chance when Sundar was on 45, with the tourists 272-6, and squandered two reviews after a week in which his tactics and tetchiness were criticised.

The timing of Monday’s declaration, presuming Australia are in a position to end the innings on their terms, will be one of the biggest calls of Paine’s captaincy.

Milestone man Nathan Lyon’s pursuit of 400 wickets, a story arc throughout the summer and especially leading up to his 100th Test, gathered no momentum on Sunday. Lyon recorded figures of 1-65 from 28 overs, extending a series in which India have regularly frustrated the off-spinner.

An unheralded India XI, in which Pujara and Rahane are the only members who also took part in the series-opening defeat, have refused to buckle despite the absence of captain Virat Kohli and other key personnel.

If Australia close out a series victory they will owe Hazlewood and Cummins, who bowled Thakur to snap the game-changing partnership, a debt of gratitude.

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