Hayden stars on a day of hard slog
Matthew Hayden made history by getting to 30 Test centuries faster than anyone else, but the overall theme on the third day was slowness, with a usually dominant Australian batting line-up stymied by some disciplined and committed bowling from the Indians. Ishant Sharma epitomised that with a magnificent spell of 9-2-10-1 after lunch, and Hayden's wicket was rich reward.
But a dogged innings from Ricky Ponting and his unbeaten 81-run partnership with Michael Clarke ensured that there would be no danger of India enforcing the follow on. They ended the day still 204 adrift of India's 526, with the run-machine having been reduced to a relative crawl.
The foundation had been set by a 160-run opening partnership between Hayden and Phil Jaques, but that ended just after lunch when Jaques had an ugly mow at Anil Kumble bowling round the wicket. The ball barely bounced, and sneaked under the bat to bowl him for 60. Ponting's arrival also meant that Kumble took himself out of the attack to bring on Harbhajan Singh.
But unlike on five previous occasions, Ponting survived his first-ball rendezvous with Harbhajan, and all eyes turned to Hayden as he sought to make his third century of the series. Cutting and sweeping with typical power, it took him 181 balls and it was wholly appropriate that the 100th run was reached with a sweep to midwicket. An Australia Day crowd - it was also India's Republic Day - of 26,720 gave him a standing ovation.
He couldn't bask in the acclaim too long though, upstaged by the young man whose spell to Ponting in Perth announced the arrival of a special talent. Ishant was impeccable with his line, and got enough reverse swing and movement off the pitch to have the batsmen constantly guessing.
Ponting survived some nervy moments, but Hayden didn't, comprehensively beaten by one that swung in and nipped back off the seam. By the time Kumble took Ishant off, he had brought the innings to a standstill. The other bowlers weren't as effective though, and Ponting finally shed the shackles when he pulled Irfan Pathan for a four off the 53rd ball that he faced.
Hussey swept and drove Kumble with great confidence, and with Harbhajan unable to work his magic on Ponting, it was India that were looking a little bereft of ideas. But as often happens, an interval changed the complexion of the game. Hussey edged Kumble's first ball after tea low to the right of first slip where Rahul Dravid couldn't hold on to a difficult chance. Soon after, a vociferous leg-before shout from Pathan was turned down.
It turned out to have no bearing on the proceedings, as Pathan then summoned up an absolute peach that swung in to rattle the top of off stump. Hussey was gone for 22, and Australia were suddenly looking a lot less secure. Ponting played one gorgeous cover-drive off Kumble, but was otherwise nowhere near his fluent best. It was left to Clarke to inject some momentum, and he did so with a lofted on-drive and a cut past point in a Kumble over.
By the time Ponting eased past 50, it had taken him 114 balls and 197 minutes, the slowest of his career. With Kumble then favouring Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan in tandem for a short while, there was almost a long lull, and the crowd's reverie was shattered only by Ponting cutting a wide one from Harbhajan for four. There was some drama in the climactic stages, with Sehwag having a huge appeal turned down for a catch at slip. Replays suggested that the ball had gone off the forearm, and that Billy Bowden had made the right decision.
It was only after 107.2 overs that India chose to take the new ball, and Ponting quickly pounced with two fours off an Ishant over. But the late flourish couldn't obscure the fact that he and his side had been made to work incredibly hard for their runs. Having gotten used to rattling along at four an over, they had to settle for a day when runs came at an old-world pace.
There had been much more intent in the morning, with Hayden to the fore. In his absence, there had been stutters at the start in Perth, but normal service was resumed at the Adelaide Oval on another bright and stiflingly hot morning. Indian hopes of bowling Australia out cheaply were badly dented before play commenced, with the news that RP Singh would play no part in the day's proceedings, and perhaps the rest of the match, as a result of a hamstring strain.
Kumble opened with Ishant at one end, and Harbhajan at the other, but though there was fairly sharp turn and variable bounce, Australia weathered the early challenge. A 21-gun salute down on the River Torrens caused a brief interruption, but with the mind once again focussed, Hayden raced to 50 with two screeching cuts off Harbhajan. Soon after, Kumble opted to try another pace-spin combination, with Pathan complementing his legspin. But by then, Hayden was in the mood, with an emphatic cut and delicate glide off Pathan highlighting that power could also be allied to finesse.
India went into a huddle at the second drinks break, but chances continued to be at a premium on a surface where there were still plenty of runs to be scored. After a good leg-before appeal was turned down, Pathan and Hayden briefly had words before Bowden stepped in to calm things down. And Hayden showed that it hadn't disrupted his concentration in any way with a huge six over long-on off Kumble.
Jaques then swung one past the fielder at midwicket, eliciting anguished gasps from the fielders, and a firm push past mid-off took him to a half-century, ending a relatively fallow run in the second and third Tests. But after 97 runs in that session, the match became a battle of attrition, with both sides having something to smile about. The big picture too slowly took shape, with a draw appearing the most likely result.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo