India stay in touch after Ponting half-century
Australia 285 for 5 (Ponting 77, Watson 57) v India
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Neither side can find a way to dominate this series and after another absorbing staring contest the teams finished with the honours relatively even. In a topsy-turvy opening on a cloudy day in Bangalore, Australia dominated the first session, slipped to the Indian spinners after lunch and then worked their way back through Ricky Ponting's 77.
But just as Ponting seemed ready to go on to his second century in India he lost focus, falling lbw to Suresh Raina's part-time offspin, and the scales were back in balance. At the close Marcus North had battled his way to 43 in another of his regular career-defining innings, and the side was 285 for 5 when bad light ended play.
India has always been a problem venue for Ponting, but he was succeeding in his most uncomfortable environment in what is almost certainly his last five-day match there. He has struggled with the bat, averaging 25 in 14 Tests in the country, and has never captained the side to a victory in India while wearing a baggy green. With the contest at a delicate stage he produced a committed performance - mostly fluent, but still short of his peak standard - to lift his men after they wobbled to 132 for 3.
In partnership first with Michael Hussey (34) and then North, Ponting showed positive intent as he tried to set up Australia to level the series and avoid dropping to a ranking of No. 5 ahead of the Ashes. The batsmen had dawdled in the first match in Mohali, where they suffered a heart-breaking one-wicket loss, but there was no slumber this time. They were desperate to take advantage of the pitch before it started to deteriorate, and factor in some possible weather interruptions during the game.
Shane Watson displayed the attitude with a muscular 57 as he and Simon Katich raced to 60 runs in the first hour and 95 for the opening session. Driving and pulling strongly, Watson breezed to his half-century in 57 balls, but the situation was upturned almost immediately after lunch.
Harbhajan Singh sparked the crowd and his team when Katich, who had been so focussed before the break, was caught for 43, cutting too close to his body and being well-taken at slip by Rahul Dravid. That was the signal for the hosts to close in and Watson was becalmed for the half hour after lunch. Pragyan Ojha brushed the shoulder of Watson's bat with a ball moving away and Australia were 132 for 3 when Michael Clarke was caught at leg slip by Raina.
Harbhajan was operating around the wicket and Clarke's defensive push ended in an edge that popped off his pad. Having captured two vital breakthroughs, Harbhajan's influence then slipped away and he was forced to leave the field shortly before tea for treatment on a hand injury. He was expensive on his return and finished with 2 for 100 from 26 overs while Ojha, who flickered during the middle session, gained 1 for 63. Both slow men gained strong turn on the opening day - a worrying sign for the Australians, who struggled in the second innings in Mohali.
Ponting arrived to survive the early exchanges with Harbhajan, his great tormentor, and was quickly forced into an important rebuild. Hussey stayed with him during a stand of 66 and played unusually aggressively, but he was undone by Zaheer Khan straight after tea when he slashed at a wide one and was taken in the gully.
After putting on 58 with North it was Ponting's turn for regret. Once Ponting's lapse would have been unusual, but as he ages he regularly makes mortal errors. Last week it was a careless run-out and today it was becoming a casual bowler's maiden Test wicket. He tried to play across the line and was hit on the pads with the ball heading towards leg stump.
India sensed another opportunity with North's arrival as the batsman attempted to prove he is worthy of an Ashes place. The start of the innings is the hardest for North and while he went through that barrier and beyond, he never allowed either himself or his supporters to relax. He did well to make it to the close, but he and Tim Paine (8) have more important work to do on the second morning.
In the end it was a reasonable day for India, particularly after they were flat in the early stages. They were forced to play without VVS Laxman, who failed to overcome a back injury, and had three new faces in their side. Sreesanth went wicket-less as he stepped in for Ishant Sharma while M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara will have key batting roles over the rest of the match. How the fresh trio performs could hold the answer to the result of the series.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo