India v Australia, 3rd Test, Feroz Shah Kotla, 1st day October 29, 2008

Australia's chances dwindle

Ali Cook
There was more discipline in Australia's bowling than last week, but the prospect for the team remains bleak

Brett Lee raised Australia's hopes by dismissing Virender Sehwag in the third over but he didn't take another wicket © Getty Images

There was more discipline in Australia's bowling than last week, but the prospect for the team remains bleak. A suitable recovery seems impossible despite their efforts in the lead-up to the game and throughout the first day in Delhi. India's batsmen are just too good on their home pitches if the bowlers at both ends are unable to work together to stifle runs.

Australia's morning started as brightly as the Diwali fireworks of the previous evening, with Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson dropping the home team to 27 for 2, but once Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir came together the series slipped further away. These are scary times for the visitors, who must avoid defeat to stay in contention.

Despite a lot of talk and tinkering between the second and third Tests, there is a gulf between the sides that is unlikely to narrow over the next two weeks. With the pitch expected to become more uneven and spin friendly as the match continues, Australia are in need of more than fireworks when their batsmen get a chance. It will not be as easy as India made it look, especially with the amount of turn the part-timer Simon Katich was able to generate in six overs before stumps.

"It will be really difficult on the third, fourth and fifth days," Gambhir said. "The Kotla pitch is always inconsistent when it starts breaking up. With two quality spinners and two quality fast bowlers, it's going to be really hard for Australia."

Stuart Clark came back from an elbow injury with a shorter run-up and excellent control, but even his tight, fighting spells could not produce wickets or cause enough disruption to force the Indians to fold. He finished with 0 for 29 from 21 overs and deserved at least one of the two wickets that went to Johnson. Shane Watson also contained, particularly in the first two sessions, but Lee and Johnson strayed often enough to let the batsmen operate without stress.

Things were better than in Mohali, but Australia's fast bowlers are not used to the treatment delivered by Gambhir, Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. On a couple of occasions they tried to stare down the batsmen and talk them into error. That didn't work either.

Watson and Gambhir had some exchanges during the afternoon, including one when the batsman pushed his elbow into the bowler's chest while trying to run a second. Watson, a huge man, was never in danger of breaking, but he wasn't happy. Like most of the bowlers, he could find no way to upset the batsmen apart from one searing bouncer that struck Gambhir on the shoulder. It still went for four, summing up Australia's day.

Gambhir secured the victory in his duel with Watson by going down the pitch and lofting over mid-on for six to bring up his century. It was a brave, stylish move that showed Gambhir's confidence - and India's - against an attack waving no flags of fear.

"Our bowlers tried really hard on a very flat wicket," the Australia vice-captain Michael Clarke said. "Sachin played really well, Gambhir played well and then VVS at the end."

Lee was driven through cover a few times, which doesn't happen too often in Tests, and Cameron White could do nothing in four overs except watch 27 runs come from his offerings. The over-rate was a concern again, meaning Clarke and Katich were needed in the final hour. Nothing the Australians tried could slow India down for long.

Despite the downturn of the tourists' performances, Clarke remained hopeful that the pitch would not change face before the end of Australia's first innings. "Being a batsman," he said, "I can't wait to get out there and get my opportunity tomorrow on that wicket.

"Our preparation has been spot on and it's only day one gone, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow. We need to hold our chances." They also need to hope.