India's batsmen showed positive intent in their reply to Australia's commanding score of 451, reaching 120 for 1 on the second day of the third cricket Test in Ranchi on Friday.
K L Rahul (67) scored his fourth half-century (his fifth in Test cricket) of the series and along with fellow opener Murali Vijay (42 batting), conjured up a stand of 91 -- their best of the series -- on a JSCA track that remained good for batting.
India still need 132 runs to avoid the follow-on but with Virat Kohli's fitness a concern, the onus will be on other batsmen to help India post a substantial total.
Just when Rahul was looking good for a big score, he frittered away the advantage edging one to Matthew Wade off pacer Pat Cummins.
The opener faced 102 balls hitting nine boundaries while Vijay also looked compact at the other end remaining unbeaten on 42 in his 50th Test appearance. Cheteshwar Pujara was at the other end, batting on 10, when stumps were drawn for the day.
Vijay hit six boundaries, showing enormous patience.
After negotiating the initial spell of Cummins and Josh Hazlewood safely, Rahul opened up by hitting shots on all sides of the square. He treated all the bowlers with equal disdain. Cummins was hit for three boundaries, so was Steve O'Keefe while Hazlewood was dispatched to the ropes on two occasions.
Earlier, Steve Smith posted the highest individual score by an Australian captain in India, smashing 178 off 361 balls with 17 boundaries to his credit.
Glenn Maxwell (104) also completed a well-deserved maiden Test hundred. He had nine boundaries and two sixes in his 185-ball knock.
Smith-Maxwell put on 191 runs for the fifth wicket, laying the foundation for the big Australian total.
Australia's last five wickets fell for a mere 56 runs, which prevented Smith from completing his double hundred.
For India, Ravindra Jadeja (5/124) bowled with a lot of heart. Equally praiseworthy was Umesh Yadav's performance (3/108 in 31 overs), who bowled with pace and got the old ball to reverse on a consistent basis.
Ravichandran Ashwin had a bad day in office as he got 1/114 in 34 overs. More noticeably, not for once did he look menacing on a track that did not offer much help unlike the first two Test matches.
Smith batted more than eight and half hours as he was epitome of concentration.
At the other end, Maxwell shed his T20 specialist's tag, showing adequate restraint while punishing loose deliveries over four hours that he was at the crease.
Smith was also involved in three of the four half-century stands as Australia posted the highest total in a series that was previously dominated by the spinners.
After Maxwell's departure, Matthew Wade notched a 50-ball 37 (6x4) in a quick 64-run sixth wicket partnership with Smith.
But Jadeja put the brakes on the scoring, dismissing Wade and Patt Cummins (0) 10 minutes before lunch to infuse some energy into the Indian camp.
Introduced in the sixth over, Jadeja bowled and took all the three wickets in the first session. With Ravichandran Ashwin (1/114) returning wicketless on day two, Jadeja had to take the bulk of the workload, bowling 49.3 overs.
Jadeja also completed a fine run-out of Josh Hazlewood by backflicking Rahul's throw in a MS Dhoni-like dismissal to bowl out Australia for in 137.3 overs.
India had a spirited start to the day when pacer Yadav snapped Maxwell’s bat into two with a 140kph delivery on the first ball as he went on to flex his muscles but what transpired later on was a batting dominance.
The Indian camp looked dispirited in the absence of skipper Kohli who remained away recovering from a shoulder strain after his awkward dive on Thursday.
Kohli is out of the field for six hours and 40 minutes, since 39.1 over in the post-lunch session on Day 1 when he injured himself by landing awkwardly trying to save a boundary off Peter Handscomb at mid-on.
His absence from the field however would not affect his number four batting position with this being an external injury.
Kohli's deputy Ajinkya Rahane led the team and did some smart bowling changes but they struggled to get the first breakthrough of the day after the Aussie resumed on 299/4 with Smith and Maxwell holding fort.
Maxwell was at his watchful best and conceded a maiden to Jadeja on 99 but in the next over he powerfully cut an Umesh Yadav widish delivery through slips to notch up the hundred.
Maxwell is now the 13th player to score centuries in all the three formats of the game.
Having played his last of the three Tests in October 2014, Maxwell made a comeback in place of an injured Mitchell Marsh as he made full use of the opportunity becoming second Aussie after Shane Watson to post centuries in all the three formats.
His partnership with skipper Smith gave them a fine advantage in their bid to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.