Australia v India, 2nd Test, Sydney, 1st day January 2, 2008

Ponting falls to a familiar foe

Harbhajan Singh eventually removed Ricky Ponting for the seventh time in eight Tests © Getty Images

Positioning fielders is like manoeuvring chess pieces and there is usually a lot of build-up before any reward. Dinesh Karthik, a substitute for Wasim Jaffer, was the pawn who helped break down Australia's famed batting order and all he did was move a couple of steps.

Harbhajan Singh was involved in a tight tussle with Ricky Ponting, who was fortunate to avoid another cheap dismissal to the offspinner when Mahendra Singh Dhoni missed a stumping, and he was starting to look comfortable when working the ball to fine leg. Anil Kumble had ordered a short leg, short midwicket, midwicket and mid-on to stifle Ponting's legside play; he responded by shuffling across the stumps and finding space with flicks and dabs.

The careful Indian plan was being exposed and Harbhajan needed a change. Karthik, who was under the helmet at short leg, was shifted a couple of metres to his right to cut down Ponting's safe scoring option. Now just behind square, Karthik's new spot forced Ponting to play straighter and into India's trap. It was a switch that worked at the first attempt, although the tourists received some charity from the umpire Mark Benson.

Harbhajan's doosra forced Ponting back and he intended to push down the ground, but the ball hurried on, hitting his edge before the pad. India roared, having achieved the prized dismissal, and Harbhajan ran to point, waiting for his team-mates to approach before bowing like a matador. It was the seventh time in eight Tests he had accounted for Ponting and he deserved the wicket, even if the lbw decision was wrong.

Ponting was furious, hanging his bat towards the umpire and swinging it over the boundary rope as he walked off, but he had already benefited from a not-out ruling to a leg glance off Sourav Ganguly on 17, and an over before his dismissal he could have been caught at deep square leg if Rahul Dravid had been more alert. His 55 contained some brilliant drives and a century seemed assured if only he did not have to face Harbhajan.

In Harbhajan's second over of the day he enticed Ponting, facing his fourth delivery from the bowler, to come down the pitch and Harbhajan was horrified to see the ball brush Dhoni's glove and speed for two byes instead of a legside stumping. Ponting had fallen to his first ball from Harbhajan in Melbourne and was again in trouble against high-quality offspin, just as he was when facing Muttiah Muralitharan in November. For the rest of the over he went back to defend, but during lunch devised a strategy for runs to fine leg.

A quick change in the field helped straighten up India as well as Ponting. The essential breakthrough gained in significance when Australia lost their legs with the departure of their captain, dropping 4 for 15 in 30 balls. However, a tiny first innings was avoided by the fine recovery of Andrew Symonds and Brad Hogg, and no amount of tinkering in the field by Kumble could stop the partnership reaching 173. By then even Ponting was feeling upbeat again.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo