Intriguing day of Test cricket ahead
The backs of the rock-solid chairs at the PCA Stadium don't move back or forward, else that movement could have been heard when Sachin Tendulkar moved too far across to Marcus North and was out lbw for 98. Tendulkar had played beautifully until then, and the century had seemed inevitable.
There were three other knocks in the Indian innings that met a similar fate. Virender Sehwag got a short ball that stopped a touch, Rahul Dravid got a good ball from Doug Bollinger, and Suresh Raina - who looked unstable in the second half of his innings - played around a skidding delivery from Mitchell Johnson. Neither of them was as good or as big an innings as Tendulkar's, but all three had centuries on offer after having blunted the attack. Had even one of the four men gone on to score a big hundred, India would have batted Australia out of the game.
Still, thanks to the pace at which India scored, and thanks to an Australian attack that isn't quite threatening to take 10 wickets in a day, the late collapse during which India lost five wickets for 24 should not hurt the home side too much. While theoretically all three results are still open, an Indian defeat is only a slim possibility. The only way India can lose now is for Australia to get bowled cheaply, and India to do even worse.
Australia, for sure, won't be too keen to declare too soon, thus giving India most of the final day to survive. The presence of Sehwag in the Indian line-up takes care of such declarations, especially after what he did against England in Chennai in 2008-09. Also, Australia will not be encouraged by how their bowlers hardly created any pressure on India for three sessions.
It was possibly this knowledge that prompted India to go for quick runs. They must have felt that they were the side that needed to push for a win. Dravid later said that the pace at which India went had kept the game alive. It was a remarkable approach, too, since they knew VVS Laxman was out for at least the day with back spasms.
India scored only 23 runs fewer than Australia, taking 43 fewer overs. It was clear from the in-and-out field set early in the day that Australia were not going to force the pace. They had the runs on the board, and asked India to risk losing wickets going for the quick runs needed for a win. It was a smart approach, and needed high-quality batting to be countered. India took the challenge, and Dravid, Tendulkar and Raina all seized the initiative.
Dravid said, though, that India would have loved to totally eliminate the possibility of losing, and force Australia to save the game over four sessions or so. "We had the advantage, and we looked like we were going really well when Sachin and Raina were batting," he said. "But we lost wickets in a heap. At the same time I wouldn't say we are behind now. We are on an even keel at this stage. You also got to give credit to the bowlers. [Mitchell] Johnson bowled really well towards the end."
In a strange way, though, this collapse might have given India a slight advantage. Had things gone to plan, India would have tried to bat until the third session of day four, getting a lead of close to 250 and asking Australia to save the game. That would have given Australia a clear approach. Now, they will have to weigh up whether to go for safety first or whether to attack, as a team with a slender lead and with the advantage of bowling last would usually do.
As it often happens in Tests where both the teams complete their innings quite close to each other by the end of the third day, the third innings of the match will be crucial here. In their first effort, Australia managed to defend well against spin, with a clear mindset on a fresh pitch. On day four, though, the pitch will be worn out, and there will be options running in the head. If Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan - who "bowled 50 overs on one leg" in the first innings - are at their best, the fourth day will make for some Test cricket.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo