Melbourne, Dec 28 (IANS) Virat Kohli (169) cracked his highest Test score and forged a 262-run fourth-wicket partnership with Ajinkya Rahane (147) to launch a stunning Indian fightback to end day three at 462 for eight, but five late wickets brought the contest back in balance in the enthralling third Test against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) here Sunday.
Kohli cracked his third century of the series, aided by 18 boundaries, after hitting hundreds in both innings of the first Test. Rahane stroked his first century on the Australian soil which came off 171 balls, studded with 21 hits to the fence.
The duo’s stupendous effort forced Australia onto the backfoot despite having the weight of a formidable total (530 all out) to back them up.
But once Rahane was dismissed in trying to step up on the run-rate, three wickets – debutant Lokesh Rahul (3), skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (11) and Ravinchandran Ashwin (0) – perished cheaply to reduce India to 434 for seven and swing the match back in the balance.
Kohli’s dismissal off Mitchell Johnson on what turned out be the last ball of the day dampened the team’s spirits further as India were 68 runs behind with only two wickets in hand in their first innings.
Mohammed Shami was unbeaten on nine at stumps.
Pacer Ryan Harris took four wickets for 69 while spinner Nathan Lyon chipped in with two.
India resumed the day at 108 for one in reply to Australia’s first innings score of 530 all out and were in a spot of bother losing both overnight batsman Cheteshwar Pujara (25) and Murali Vijay (68) within the first hour of play, to be reduced to 147 for three.
But after steadying the ship with a 77-run partnership before lunch to pull India to 224 for three at the meal break, the Kohli-Rahane duo defied the probing Australian bowling, taking the attack to the opposition.
Both led charmed lives, benefiting from dropped catches each, to pile on the agony for the home team.
Kohli, who scored two centuries in the first Test at Adelaide Oval, unleashed a handful of sweetly-timed cover drives early in his innings.
He was ably supported by Rahane who began his innings similarly and then matched the more experienced Kohli shot-by-shot.
He benefited from Lyon’s failure to latch onto a simple caught-and-bowled chance and raced to a fluent hundred, passing Kohli in the race to three figures.
The 26-year-old then tore into Johnson’s ploy of bouncing him and initiated a stunning assault on the left-arm pacer, dispatching him to the fence each time he bowled short.
Kohli, too, rode his luck. He was dropped by Shane Watson at first slip and had another life on the same score when a mistimed pull-shot, both off a fired-up Johnson, eluded the diving gloves of wicket-keeper Brad Haddin.
The proceedings got heated up when Johnson hit Kohli with a follow-through throw while trying to run-out the Indian.
Kohli then exchanged words with the pacer and lost his composure to offer two chances, but Australia muffled both.
Earlier, India’s start to the day’s action couldn’t have been worse. Resuming the day at 108 for one, Australia needed only two deliveries from Ryan Harris to get an initial breakthrough, scalping Chesteshwar Pujara on his overnight score of 25.
He was caught brilliantly by an acrobatic Brad Haddin who flew himself on the right to catch the ball with his outstretched glove.
India were then moving along nicely with Murali Vijay and Kohli hitting terrific rhythm.
Harris and Johnson tested them out with well-directed bouncers and a probing line. The duo patiently weathered the storm; Vijay even got hit on the helmet by Johnson.
But the right-hander was dismissed after top-edging an attempted cut shot to Shane Watson to put India under pressure.
That brought Rahane in the middle but he quickly settled in, racing to 43 at lunch, building the foundation for a memorable partnership.