LONDON, June 11 (AP): Australia has seven more India wickets to capture on a sunny Sunday to win the World Test Championship final it has dominated at the Oval.
The bullish Indians were at 164-3 by stumps on the fourth day Saturday but the Australians were in pole position for the major men's trophy neither team has won.
India was set a colossal target of 444 that's never been reached after Australia declared its second innings on 270-8 midway through the middle session.
India, which tallied 296 the first time, went after the target with natural optimism. But openers Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill and No. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara were dismissed and India was relying on superstar Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, carrying an injured finger, to produce a substantial partnership against the odds.
They were off to an encouraging start of 71 together. Kohli was on 44 from 60 balls and Rahane on 20. They need 280 more runs.
"Not a big score, 280 runs,” India bowler Mohammed Shami said. "To me, we should bat normal, ball by ball, not look at the long target. Keep small targets and you get more success.
"One hundred percent everyone believes tomorrow we will win. Because we have always fought. We perform well around the world. Not only here.”
For all of Kohli's epic innings, the only two hundreds he's hit in fourth-innings chases, both in 2014, didn't earn India wins. And he hasn't scored a hundred outside India since 2018.
After waiting more than three hours for Australia to declare, the subdued India fans were roused by five boundaries in the first 20 balls by Sharma and Gill. After the ball was hit out of shape and replaced, Sharma added a six for good measure when he pulled Mitchell Starc over fine leg.
Then Gill, on 18 from 19 balls, was out to another sensational catch at gully by Cameron Green. He plucked it with his left hand barely off the ground and scraped the grass. To check it was fair, the umpires asked for a review and seven replays later they confirmed Green's fingers were beneath the ball.
"I knew I caught it straight away,” Green said. "I know it looks a bit weird but I knew. The openers got off to a flying start so it is always nice to get that first (out) to settle our nerves.”
Shami suggested the umpires should have considered an eighth replay.
"It’s the World Test Championship final, not a normal match that you let go,” Shami said. "It should have been checked better, zoomed in. But it’s OK, it's part of the game.”
Captain Sharma protested in vain on the field, and some of the crowd cried "Cheat, cheat,” but the tea break was immediately called and things calmed, though Green was booed when he bowled briefly.
Gill cheekily tweeted emojis of magnifying glasses and a face palm. His wicket was taken by the nagging Scott Boland for the second time in the final.
In the hottest part of England's hottest day of the year so far, Sharma and Pujara shrugged off the 31-degree humidity and the focused Australians to rack 50 off 70 balls. But as soon as it was 51, Sharma was out leg before trying to sweep spinner Nathan Lyon in his first over. Sharma had 43.
Five minutes later, Pujara was out for 27 from an ill-thought uppercut at a bouncer from Pat Cummins, and gave a catch behind.
India was 93-3 when Rahane joined Kohli and the pitch wasn't the demon it was the previous three days as the ball softened.
They flicked around the Australians. Kohli hit seven boundaries and was ruthless through midwicket, while Rahane, after taking a literal beating on Thursday and Friday, punished bad balls.
"They've got two class players in at the moment so we've got to stay patient,” Australia wicketkeeper Alex Carey said. "(The pitch) is still doing bits and pieces, but hopefully those chances will come.”
Australia started the day with six wickets in hand and leading by 296 runs, already 33 runs higher than the best fourth-innings chase at the Oval, from 1902.
In the race between Australia deciding when enough runs were enough and India trying to force the issue, Australia won.
India could dismiss only Marnus Labuschagne for 41 and Green for 25 in the morning as Australia crawled to lunch at 201-6 from 123-4 overnight.
Carey pocketed the reverse sweep that got him out in the first innings and led the cause with a fine, unbeaten 66.
Starc added 41 for his highest test score in four years and Cummins called time after he sliced out for 5.
Cummins has asked India to average three an over to win the final. India has history at the Oval, where it has the most runs in a fourth innings, 429 in a 1979 draw against England.
A win will accomplish a world record chase. India's highest successful fourth-inning chase was 406 in 1976 against the West Indies in Port of Spain. The world record was 418 in 2003 by West Indies against Australia in Antigua.
More AP cricket: https://apnews.com/hub/cricket and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports