Australia v India, 1st Test, Melbourne, 3rd day December 28, 2007

India's revival with the ball

Although Harbhajan Singh's contribution with the ball proved unsatisfactory, he remains confident that India can still stage a comeback in the series © Getty Images

Look at the third day's play in isolation and you have an interesting contest: Australia 351 for 7, a good score but not necessarily a match-winning one. It would still be Australia's day but India would end it upbeat, hoping to mop up the tail in the first hour tomorrow. They would have taken heart from their effort and looked to sustain the fight on the next day.

Test matches mean nothing without context. A tepid crowd watched a game being set up, fully aware of the possibilities ahead. There was no guesswork going on. Almost double the number turned up for the opening day, one where Australia managed 337 for 9. Only 14 more runs were scored today for two less wickets but the day but there was hardly any buzz; just 35,000-odd people waiting for the declaration.

It may sound preposterous to praise the Indian bowlers on such a day but they showed the stomach for a fight, a quality that had served them well on the opening day. Zaheer Khan ran in with purpose, RP Singh came with a bit more fire, Harbhajan Singh slowed it down a bit and Anil Kumble refused to waver. On the hottest day of their trip, after their batsmen had let them down, they showed the sort of defiance the batsmen could have done with.

Zaheer's run to the wicket has rarely been quicker. It was clear that he was desperate to make a point, so eager that he overstepped once too often. The in-cutter to castle Andrew Symonds was a cracker - he had almost finished his celebration before he realised it was a no-ball - and the intensity of his appealing told you about a strike bowler wanting to create inroads. He generated some lethal reverse-swing and changed his angle often enough to keep the batsmen guessing. He had displayed a similar zeal in the second innings at Nottingham, a match that he turned with a couple of fiery spells.

What hurt India, for the second time in three days, was Australia's urge to get a move on. It's not only the strength they summoned to smash fours and sixes but also the stealth to grab quick runs. They have been stronger and faster than the Indians. Nowhere were their batsmen's approach more evident than when Symonds was bowled. Turning back to see his stumps shattered, he seemed to be heading towards the pavilion before realising it was a no-ball. One would have expected him to look up at the heavens, instead he was furiously calling his partner for a run. Score first, thank later.

India's sloppy fielding wasn't going to help - they were always going to struggle in such big arenas - but they would be heartened by Harbhajan Singh's improvement. He didn't extract much spin from the surface but slowed his pace and worked his angles. He is still far from being a threatening force but will take a few positives to Sydney, where the surface might suit him more.

He also reminded everyone about this being only his second Test in Australia. "It takes time to adjust to the conditions in Australia," Harbhajan said of his poor first-innings effort. "These pitches have some extra bounce, something we're not used to in India. I think we bowled well today. As a bowling unit, we've been bowling well."

Harbhajan's responses to a few critical questions summed up the bowlers' day. "We're here to win the series and are not going to try and draw the game." When provoked - "Don't you think the series might be gone before India acclimatise to the conditions?" - he turned combative: "We won't lose the series. By the time we return to India, let me show you we're here to win."

It is a stubbornness that will serve India's batsmen well. The Test may be gone but there's plenty to be gained over the next couple of days.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo