Indian off-spinner R Ashwin, who had the wood over Steven Smith in the first two Tests, asserted that he expected Smith to come better prepared this Test, which was the case. After a slump earlier, Australia's no.4 made 131 and 81 respectively and helped Australia greatly with the bat.
After the first two Tests where Ashwin dismissed Smith in two out of three innings, the riveting battle turned in favor of the Australian in the third Test at the SCG. After the MCG Test, Smith had conceded that he had let Ashwin dictate terms but he played with ample of intent in this Test and used his feet, hands and mind to perfection to counter the big Ashwin threat. He wasn't afraid of going down the ground for lofted shots and looked constantly for runs, which put the Indian off-spinner at bay.
However, today on day four, in the second innings, after he was dominating Indian bowlers, on 81, he was trapped in-front of the wicket as R Ashwin's classical offie beat him for all money and denied him another century in the game. The seasoned campaigner Ashwin wasn't surprised that Smith came good, but also added the pitch also played into the Aussie's hands.
"We expect quality batsmen to come out with different plans. For starters, the wicket has had far lesser bounce and pace than MCG and Adelaide and SCG has been like that over the years. This was even slower than the regular Sydney pitch because of the amount of sun it received," Ashwin said after the close of day four's play of the SCG Test in the virtual press conference.
"There was clear strategy from Marnus and Smith to not defend and push the ball, which they didn't earlier. So the combination of the pitch and the strategy helped them. In the second innings, I put them through much pressure because the wicket was better. It's a duel that I have really enjoyed as both are quality batsmen and I am happy to have got him out again."
India ended day 4 on 98 for 2 and they require another 309 runs to win the game with eight wickets in hand on the final day. In the 2014 Adelaide Test, India had gone for the chase, when they were in a similar situation, though the pitch was flatter and runs were lesser to chase. Ashwin admitted that one can't pre-mediate such big chases as unlike ODIs, Test cricket presents different challenges.
"Unlike ODIs, in Tests, you don't go into the fifth day of the Test looking at the target and say, we will go after it and win it. Red-ball cricket is much more different when you are playing on a day five wicket with different passages of play. Sometimes, when play to the merit of the ball, have the hunger, you put yourself into a situation where you can take initiative but no team goes into the morning thinking, we will certainly chase the total.
"In 2014 Adelaide as well, batsmen got to a good start and we believed that we can go for it. And tomorrow as well, will go with the same belief as it is important to trust yourself when you play."
For India, their hopes for a draw or a win would hang on the experienced shoulders of Rahane and Pujara who were unbeaten at the end of the day, and are the most experienced players in the side. The Indian offie was hopeful of the duo coming good.
"We need to play a good first session where it will be ideal for us not to lose a wicket. Pujara and Rahane have played enough Test cricket and they know what they need to do in this format of the game as they have played many good knocks. Rahane got a hundred at the MCG, Pujara got a fifty in the first innings. And we are all hopeful that they will do a good job."
There were lot of question marks on Ashwin's poor running between the wickets in India's first innings when he ran slowly and got run-out and was found watching the fielder. However, Ashwin defended himself and put down the run-out to a miscommunication which he claimed happened due to excessive crowd noise.
"In all honesty, I might not be the fastest of runners between the wicket but I actually judge the run very well and not often I have got run-out in Tests. Yesterday, the run-out happened as I heard Jadeja's call very late and by that time, he was almost halfway through the the pitch. He could have called little earlier, or may be, I didn't hear the call due to the noise of the crowd. And that is why I was looking at the ball. I have played enough cricket to know that front of the wicket is strikers call but there was other reason to be looking behind the wicket."