Australia ahead on difficult track
India 104 (Dravid 31*, Gillespie 4-29, Hauritz 3-16) and 5 for 0 trail Australia 203 (Martyn 55, Kumble 5-90, Kartik 4-44) by 94 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
On a pitch where strokeplay became Russian roulette, Australia batted themselves into a position of strength even as 18 wickets fell in the 95 overs bowled. Jason Gillespie and Nathan Hauritz, the new boy, were the standout performers as India were bowled out in the morning for a paltry 104, and then Damien Martyn produced a superb 55 to wrest the initiative as India dropped four clangers in the middle of a slipshod fielding display. Anil Kumble picked up another five-for without bowling particularly well, but the run deficit may prove too much for India on a surface from which mushroom clouds of dust were exploding each time the ball pitched.
Martyn had made just 11 when he prodded tentatively at a beautiful delivery from Murali Kartik, but Gautam Gambhir at silly point couldn't hold on to a low chance. It was a costly lapse, as he added 44 for the third wicket with Matthew Hayden and 36 for the sixth with Adam Gilchrist, whose blistering 18-ball 26 pushed Australia's lead past 50.
Martyn nudged the ball into the gaps expertly, and played some gorgeous on-drives as Australia made steady progress despite wickets falling at regular intervals. Harbhajan Singh had shared the new ball with Zaheer Khan, and Australia had started well enough, with Justin Langer taking two fours off Harbhajan's first over. But Dravid's gamble appeared justified when Langer was reprieved off successive balls - Dinesh Karthik put down an under-edge, and Virender Sehwag fluffed a difficult chance running to his left at deep square leg after Harbhajan had fed the sweep shot.
But Langer's luck couldn't last, and an unconvincing swish at Zaheer gave Dravid his 109th catch - an Indian record - in Tests. That brought in Ricky Ponting, and a glorious straight-drive off Zaheer suggested that he'd be around for the long haul. But when Kumble came on in the 13th over, the balance tilted back India's way. Ponting was rapped on the hip playing back, and Aleem Dar upheld the appeal despite the ball having sprung off the pitch (37 for 2).
Hayden, who has been a shadow of his titanic 2001 self in this series, had earlier smashed Harbhajan for a huge six over long-on, and with tea looming, he thumped Kumble over long-off for six and then swept him for four. But against Kartik, he got carried away. After belting one over wide mid-on for six, a half-hearted saunter down the track went off bat and pad to Mohammad Kaif at forward short leg (81 for 3).
Katich was adjudged caught off the thigh-pad for just 7, but the ebullient Michael Clarke came in and whacked Kumble for two magnificent sixes over his head as Australia moved ahead. But moments after a dozing Sehwag had given Clarke a life at square leg, the adrenaline rush got the better of him. He gave Kumble the charge, played inside the line, and Karthik did the rest (121 for 5).
Gilchrist's punishing cameo, which included a six into the square-leg stand off Kumble, turned the tide once again, and Gillespie's strokeless defence then took up 32 balls, allowing Martyn to go past 50. Kumble eventually got both Gillespie and Hauritz, but Glenn McGrath and Michael Kasprowicz biffed 19 for the final wicket after Kartik had bowled Martyn off the inside edge.
The cream of India's batting had been whipped in the morning, with Australia's formidable pace attack quickly obliterating any thoughts of a batting picnic by tearing through the top order. For the sparse crowd who had made their way into the seats by 9am, the first cut had been the deepest. Sachin Tendulkar stroked one gorgeous straight-drive past McGrath for three, but then got a thin edge to a Gillespie delivery that pitched a fair way outside off stump. He made just 5 (29 for 3).
VVS Laxman pottered around for 1 before a combination of subtle movement and negligible foot movement gave the Gillespie-Gilchrist combination another victim (31 for 4). By then, Gillespie was steaming in like a runaway locomotive, terrifying the batsmen with pace, bounce and seam.
Kaif cluelessly shouldered arms to one that nipped back off the seam, and though Karthik briefly had the crowd chanting his name after a superb flick through midwicket, he had no idea about a reverse-swung yorker from Kasprowicz that uprooted middle stump.
With India in danger of falling short of their lowest total at home - 75 against West Indies at Delhi in 1987-88 - Kumble came in and smacked three fours off the pace bowlers, prompting Ponting to throw the ball to Hauritz. Australian offspinners have had much joy in India down the years, especially Ashley Mallett and Greg Matthews, and Hauritz started on the right note when Kumble's attempt to slog one over the infield was superbly caught by Ponting running in from mid-off (68 for 7).
Emboldened by that, he bowled a fine spell, extracting sharp turn and variable bounce. Several times, the ball beat not only the batsmen, but also Gilchrist behind the stumps. Hauritz got Harbhajan and Kartik - another dubious decision from Koertzen - in quick succession, before Kasprowicz clean-bowled Zaheer to put the finishing touches on another emphatic bowling display. If there is an encore tomorrow, the 3-0 result that Australia crave will be a certainty.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.