Krejza and Katich lead fightback
A purposeful, fluent and unbeaten 92 from Simon Katich kept Australia ticking at the end of a day that saw effortless batting on either side of a dramatic bowling spell. India batted smoothly through the morning, and Katich's 115-run partnership with Michael Hussey gave Australia plenty of breathing room in the late afternoon, but the collapse of five Indian wickets for 19 runs in between was scripted by the day's unlikeliest hero, Jason Krejza.
Krejza, the offspinner, had a bittersweet first Test outing with 8 for 215 - the eighth-best figures but also the most runs conceded in an innings on debut - to help Australia dismiss India for 441. Sourav Ganguly and Mahendra Singh Dhoni had batted wonderfully together in the morning, adding 119 for the sixth wicket, but fell in Krejza's second over after lunch, setting off the drama. Krejza came into this match with a few eyebrows raised over his capabilities but, in this one innings, leapfrogged Brett Lee to become Australia's second-highest wicket-taker this series.
India had cruised through the first session and the innings of the morning belonged to Ganguly, all off-side grace and on-side elegance in his last Test. He played himself in, defending well and only collected his first four when Mitchell Johnson gave him plenty of room outside off. His shots didn't lack timing, evident by a beautiful drive off the front foot and a flick off the pads, both against pace, but the bulk of his scoring came through good running. The fluid drives and whips off the pads came after he crossed his 35th fifty with a couple driven past extra cover, and there was even a vintage six, his 57th in Tests.
Dhoni's was a controlled innings, with several neat punches on the off side and some wristy steers to leg, but the highlight was how he pushed Ganguly to hustle. Always shuffling on the crease, Dhoni worked singles into the spaces easily and constantly applied pressure on tired Australian feet. There were six triples and 13 doubles in the Ganguly-Dhoni partnership, most urged by Dhoni and reciprocated rather well by Ganguly.
In the first over after lunch, consecutive boundaries off Johnson, one driven with control, one slashed wide of slip, brought Dhoni his fifty from 88 balls. Both batsmen were well set, and what followed was out of the blue.
Krejza conceded his 200th run when Ganguly tucked a single off his pads, but picked up his fourth wicket two deliveries later when Dhoni got too far across his stumps and missed a paddle. If Krejza's reaction was energetic, the roar that emanated across the caverns of a near-empty VCA Stadium to the ball after that was palpable. Ganguly pushed at one turning away and edged to a tumbling Michael Clarke at slip, thus becoming Krejza's fifth wicket.
Zaheer Khan was the sixth, dragging a boom drive back onto his stumps, and Krejza found himself on a hat-trick when he snuck one past Amit Mishra's defence. When Simon Katich snapped up a smart catch at forward short leg to get Ishant Sharma, Krejza had taken five in 26 deliveries, and returned the fourth-best effort from an Australian bowler on debut. After being mauled for 32 in his first three overs yesterday, Krejza understandably took time to settle into his stride. Without ever looking dangerous, he plugged away and achieved some genuine spite from the flat track. Though he bled runs, Krejza's was a very satisfactory display and he could also feel thrilled with an effort that included the wickets of Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Dhoni and Ganguly, with 31,038 Test runs between them.
Australia's start had been a mixed bag, with Katich cracking some super drives on the off side even as Matthew Hayden was run out for 16 by a superb direct hit from M Vijay at mid-on. A couple boundaries on the up off Ishant were easy on the eye, but like Sehwag on day one, Ricky Ponting tried to cut a turning delivery and, cramped for room, was bowled for 24. It was fitting that Harbhajan's 300th Test wicket was a man he had removed on nine previous occasions. Harbhajan became only the third offspinner to the landmark, after Lance Gibbs and Muttiah Muralitharan.
Harbhajan kept bounding in to bowl a teasing line and length and asked a few questions. For the most part Katich remained unruffled and worked his steely wrists to manufacture runs both sides of the track. One cover drive was executed perfectly as he made room and stabbed the ball past two fielders. India were thoroughly frustrated by the fluency of Katich's wristy drives and the ease with which he clipped from middle and off as he raced to 50 from just 55 deliveries.
Zaheer obtained just enough reverse-swing in the last hour to keep Katich and Hussey wary. Otherwise the pair had few issues and continued with deft tucks to the onside - Hussey was adept at this - and some firm cuts past point. There is plenty of time in this Test, and Katich and Hussey have set an extremely solid platform.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo