Australia v India, 3rd Test, Melbourne, 2nd day December 27, 2003

Hayden and Ponting put Australia in charge

Close Australia 317 for 3 (Hayden 136, Ponting 120*) trail India 366 (Sehwag 195) by 49 runs

Matthew Hayden toyed with the Indian bowlers on his way to 136
© Getty Images

A resurgent Australia called all the shots on the second day of the third Test, first taking six wickets for 37 to bowl India out for 366, and then racking up 317 for 3 by the close. Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting both made hundreds in a partnership of 234 for the second wicket, and for a large part of the second and third sessions India were under siege. Only two wickets late in the day from Anil Kumble, including that of the promoted Adam Gilchrist, kept India in with a semblance of a chance. It was quite clear that the balance of power had turned quite dramatically in this Test match.

Australia had struggled previously in the series to run quickly through the Indian lower order and tail, but their effort with the ball this morning was exactly what they would have envisaged last night when they considered how to get back into this Test match. India, resuming on 329 for 4, started brightly, with Sourav Ganguly unfurling some gorgeous drives against Brett Lee and Nathan Bracken, but they began to lose their way immediately after reaching 350.

Lee, who had come around the wicket to Ganguly, was hit for two boundaries in three balls, but broke through with a short-of-length ball that Ganguly popped to gully (350 for 5). It is a batting tic against the fast bowlers that Ganguly has struggled to eradicate completely, and it cost India dearly here.

Wickets fell in a procession thereafter, mostly to poor judgement on the part of the batsmen. Ajit Agarkar was the most culpable, hitting his first ball straight to mid-off and attempting a suicidal single only to be run-out. Kumble played another ill-judged stroke, driving at a wide ball from Williams and edging to third slip (366 for 8), and VVS Laxman fell before he could scrape together a few runs with the tail, reaching for a legbreak and was caught by Hayden at slip for 19. India had collapsed spectacularly, much like Australia on the second day of the Brisbane Test.

Brett Lee nails Sourav Ganguly to provide Australia with the perfect start to the day
© Getty Images

The door was now open for Australia to get quickly to the Indian score - no more than a moderate one given the excellent batting conditions - and then run the game from there. India had the consolation of a wicket before lunch, when Agarkar dismissed Justin Langer for the fourth time in the series (30 for 1), but there was to be little respite for the Indian bowling thereafter as Hayden and Ponting piled on the runs. The batting collapse in the morning and the run-scoring of two of the most prolific batsmen in the modern game were not the only reasons for Ganguly's distracted air. Zaheer Khan seemed to feel the effects of the injury that kept him out of the second Test, and was unable to give it all, though it was a relief to the Indians that they did not lose him altogether.

Hayden brought up his hundred off only 137 balls, but his innings was not as evenly paced as that statistic suggests. His dismissals at Adelaide, driving loosely at the seamers on both occasions, would have impressed upon him the need to be more selective about his strokeplay instead of trying to dominate all the bowlers. He batted circumspectly against Ashish Nehra, who bowled two probing and accurate spells at him, and most of his runs came against the bowling of Agarkar, whom he drove down the ground repeatedly, and Kumble, who was slog-swept with impunity and never allowed to settle. Akash Chopra, fielding at short leg to the bowling of Kumble, must have on more than one occasion felt that facing Lee's bumpers with a bat for protection was infinitely more preferable to having to dodge Hayden's swipes from five yards away.

A feature of Hayden's innings was his superb running between the wickets. He repeatedly hit the ball straight to mid-off or mid-on and made it to the nonstriker's end by the time the throw was fired in. Hayden made merry after he reached his hundred, taking guard well outside his crease and savaging even good balls with powerful strokes off the front foot.

Ponting, whose attacking instincts rival those of any other batsman in contemporary cricket, was content to play second foil for once, ensuring nevertheless that he scored at a healthy rate. He took heavy toll of Agarkar when he dropped short and Zaheer when he overpitched, but his batting against Kumble was less than assured, and he was lucky to survive on a number of occasions. It was not among his best hundreds, but it was vital nonetheless, and he remained undefeated at stumps.

When Hayden was finally out for 133, lbw to Kumble swinging across the line once too often (264 for 2), Australia made a strong statement of intent. Though still 102 behind the Indian total, they showed that they were confident they would not fall short of it by sending in Adam Gilchrist at No.4 to have a go at the bowling. Gilchrist swung at quite a few without looking very convincing, but he is easily among he most dangerous batsmen in international cricket, and India would have been relieved to see the back of him when he skied Kumble high in the air and was caught at mid-off (295 for 3).

Ponting and Damien Martyn then saw Australia through till stumps, at which point they were only 49 shy of the Indian score. It was the first time in the series that Australia had dominated the day with both bat and ball.

Chandrahas Choudhury is a staff writer with Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.