Battling Aussies on verge of defeat
AUSTRALIA'S fighting qualities have sustained right to the death in this landmark series, but its bubble burst in a crushing final Test collapse.
Only a miraculous performance from Pat Cummins and the bowlers on Tuesday can save this decider now, with India needing only 87 runs with 10 wickets still in hand to clinch one of the most compelling series ever fought.
With the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and all its groundbreaking history at their fingertips, Steve Smith's brave team capitulated in devastating circumstances at the very last hurdle.
The Aussies were all out for just 137 innings after restrictng India to a 32-run first innings lead. The hosts managed to complete day three without a loss of wickets on 19 runs.
But not before more controversy raged again, with Smith caught by television cameras branding Murali Vijay a "f***ing cheat" after the Indian first slipper claimed a grounded catch.
It mattered little though, with the final wicket of Josh Hazlewood falling two balls later, leaving Australia with the prevailing feeling that they'd come so close, yet so far.
The agonising irony is that for all the mental fortitude Australia mustered against India's world class spinners over the past six weeks, they were ripped apart by pace in one heartbreaking session, on a Dharamsala pitch that was more home grown than subcontinental.
However, the sobering reality was that for all the massive advancements Australia's batsmen have made on this tour - they were still far too reliant on captain Smith to shoulder them home.
Australia was left shattered at their dreams going up in flames.
"You could hear a pin drop today in the dressing room," said batting coach, Graeme Hick.
"Hard day today. The boys are pretty down. It's about giving it a good crack in the morning but I would say it's a tough ask.
"We had another 150 runs in that first innings (left on the table). With that we're in the game.
"While today was very disappointing it's not the only reason we find ourselves in this position."
For all the seesawing fortunes, a first innings total of 300, when Australia was 1-144, can be looked back upon as the moment when the game truly slipped away.
After Australia was rolled for just 137 in less than 54 overs in their second dig, it was left clinging to the slightest hope that they could defend a target of 106 to win - a feat which only two teams in the history of Test cricket have managed.
A successfully defended total of 85 is the record, but at 0-19 at stumps, only disaster will stop India celebrating by lunch on day four.
If this is how it ends for Smith's plucky team, it at least deserved a better finish.
Steve Smith is disconsolate after chopping a bowl onto his stumps. Picture: AFP
Every time Australia - tipped to lose 4-0 - has been knocked to the canvas this series, they've gotten up swinging - right up until the morning when Cummins reined in India's wagging tail to restrict the first innings deficit to a very manageable 32.
But by the time Australia reached parity, they'd lost three wickets, including its golden goose.
Smith - with 499 runs this series - was the centre point of a sudden and unexpected fold, where Australia was 3-31 and then 5-92 by tea.
It was hard to blame the lower order when the top had failed, but Matthew Wade and the tail showed little intent to hurry on a stationary scoreboard - a plan which backfired spectacularly when Cummins, Steve O'Keefe and Nathan Lyon were all marched for just one run.
Wade, who - engaged in a verbal war with the Indians all day - finished 25 not out off 90 balls, ultimately erred by taking a two on the last ball of the 53rd over to leave Hazlewood exposed on strike.
Chaos reigned as Vijay claimed a catch off spinner Ravi Ashwin which appeared to end the innings, until umpires called India back onto the field in extraordinary circumstances - ruling that the ball had bounced into the first slip's hands.
It reignited yet another ugly standoff between the teams, with Smith - who was labelled a systematic cheat by Virat Kohli earlier in the series - letting his feelings be known how he felt about Vijay's ethics.
In the space of six overs at the start of the innings, David Warner, Smith and Matt Renshaw were all back in the sheds, and before Australia had even got their noses in front.
After taming Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja all series, the top order was unable to handle a hot spell of bowling from the Indian quicks.
Peter Handscomb was caught spectacularly by Ajinkya Rahane at slip, Shaun Marsh was clearly inconvenienced by a jarred back and looked as stiff as a board as he departed meekly, and when Glenn Maxwell provided hope with a gutsy 45 but when he fell victim to the barest of LBW calls, it was almost game, set and match.