India build platform for upset win
When Australia made good use of occasionally overcast morning conditions to reduce India to 5 for 125, the game was very much in the balance. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar had been packed off by Brett Lee, and Mitchell Johnson had just induced a waft from Sourav Ganguly. With the lead 243, India once again faced the prospect of an overseas fairytale becoming a nightmare.
That it didn't was due to a classy 79 from VVS Laxman and sterling contributions from the lower order. Pathan preceded his bowling heroics with an accomplished 46 as nightwatchman, and MS Dhoni showed remarkable restraint in compiling a doughty 38. The biggest irritation for Australia though was RP Singh, who smacked Andrew Symonds for six during the course of an entertaining 51-run partnership that stretched the lead beyond 400.
Australia's cause was also severely hampered by an appalling over-rate. Having bowled a dismal 22 overs in the morning, Ricky Ponting had no option but to turn to spin in the afternoon. Symonds and Michael Clarke bowled 21 overs between them in the middle session, with Lee being reintroduced just 20 minutes before tea.
The respite from Lee and the relentlessly accurate Stuart Clark gave India freedom to exhale and build. Pathan had fallen to Clark soon after lunch, edging to slip, and he was magnificent right though, giving nothing away and constantly beating Dhoni's swishes outside off stump. But once he went off, and the Clarke-Symonds combo took over, India cut loose. Laxman played a superb off-drive off Clarke, and after dawdling 41 balls for five, Dhoni's patience finally snapped.
He thumped Clarke over long-on for six, and then hit Symonds to the other side of the sightscreen. One ball whizzed past Clarke's outstretched fingertips, and when Symonds speared one in, he jumped out to deposit it into the crowd at long-off.
At the other end, Laxman was all elegance, clipping the ball through the leg side and driving beautifully. He reached his fifty from 97 balls, and Australia's frustration mounted by the minute before Symonds offered some relief. Dhoni, who combined patience and impetuosity, miscued a paddle sweep behind to Gilchrist, and Anil Kumble lasted just four balls. But RP and Laxman carried on merrily for 17 overs, and by the time Clark and Lee returned to mop up, the target was an intimidating one.
The morning session had been much more even, with quick scoring offset by the loss of four wickets. Lee's pace and swing whipped out Dravid and Tendulkar, the cornerstones of the first innings, and it was left to Pathan to lead the side towards a competitive total.
Struck a painful blow on the shoulder by Lee early on, he left the bulk of the early scoring to Virender Sehwag, again in stand-and-deliver mood. Two flays through the off side off Clark left no one in any doubt about his intentions, but Lee should have had him soon after. Michael Hussey couldn't hold on to a low chance at gully though, fumbling even at the second attempt.
It wasn't a costly miss though. Sehwag hadn't added to his 43 when Clark summoned up a superb delivery that cut back to crash into the stumps via the pad. Sehwag had fallen to similar deliveries many times over the past two seasons, and Clark had clearly done his homework.
Dravid struck one peachy off-drive, but then fenced at a Lee delivery that swung away at pace. The appeal from behind the stumps was spontaneous, and as Dravid trudged off disconsolate, the stadium rose to welcome Tendulkar back to the arena where he played his greatest Test innings (that 114 in 1992).
Lee almost had him first ball, squared up by a superb delivery, but the edge streaked to the boundary. And though he did play the shot of the morning, a stunning drive straight past Lee, it was the bowler who had the last word, with pace and movement off the pitch trapping Tendulkar right in front.
With Ganguly departing for a blob, flirting with a Johnson delivery that shaped away, it required something special to tilt the balance back India's way. They got it too, from Pathan and Laxman. Pathan struck a couple of gorgeous shots down the ground and also drove through the covers beautifully when the bowlers overpitched. There were moments of good fortune too, an edge that flew through the slip cordon, and a vociferous leg-before appeal from Johnson that might have gone on to clip leg stump.
At the other end, Laxman's ability to work the ball away with those wonderfully supple wrists evoked a few oohs and aahs, but by the time tea had been taken, they were replaced by desperate chants of "Boring, boring". A crowd that hadn't seen Australia lose here since the days when the Caribbean still produced great fast bowlers was slowly soaking in the reality that yet another golden run might have come to a shuddering halt at Indian hands.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo