Harbhajan sparks India fightback
Harbhajan Singh has a habit of irritating Australia, sometimes with the ball and sometimes with his confident talk. But after Mitchell Johnson's four strikes on the third day seemingly assured the visitors of a big first-innings lead, it was with the bat that Harbhajan provided Australia with a serious headache. They still had a 117-run advantage at stumps but Harbhajan's fighting 54 lit a spark that for two and a half days had been noticeably absent in the India camp.
His 80-run stand with Zaheer Khan was the biggest and fastest partnership of India's innings. They attacked at every opportunity. When Harbhajan audaciously slapped Stuart Clark to long-on for a boundary to bring up his half-century - his third against Australia in his past three Tests against them - he thrust his bat skywards several times, willing his team-mates and the crowd to show some spirit. He had certainly done that himself.
He threw the bat when Brett Lee bounced him, pulling and top-edging boundaries; he advanced to Clark; he warded off the spin of Michael Clarke with ease. His luck did not hold and he top-edged Shane Watson behind late in the day but with the equally bold Zaheer, he had at least shown Australia the match was not theirs just yet.
Australia had the game under control for most of the day as India's specialist batsmen found the going tough against Johnson and Lee. The pitch wasn't just two-paced, it was two-faced. For Harbhajan and Zaheer it was benign; for Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly it was severely challenging.
The variable bounce was exploited by Johnson, who entered the series as Australia's least in-form fast man and he was under pressure from his fellow left-armer Doug Bollinger. After Johnson's first full day of bowling, Bollinger can make alternative plans for next week's second Test.
Johnson was the man who kept Australia on track for the first two sessions after India began the day at 68 for 0. His exhausting nine-over spell in the morning brought three huge wickets - Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman - and he returned after tea to add a composed-looking Ganguly. It was an outstanding return to Test cricket for Johnson, who had a poor series this year in the West Indies.
It's worth noting that he has prior form in India, where he was destructive in last year's ODI series and collected 14 wickets at 18.57. But repeating the success at Test level is a major step forward. He was helped by the cracking pitch and he aimed at the fissures, sometimes getting balls to stay low or seam away.
Johnson was swamped by his team-mates when he deceived Tendulkar, who had played a couple of gorgeous drives through the off side. But when he tried to do the same again, Tendulkar failed to pick up Johnson's slower ball and lobbed a catch to cover point on 13. It was a remarkably similar dismissal to two of Ishant Sharma's successes on the second day, when Cameron White was one of the victims. White was pleased to take the catch that confirmed one of the world's greatest could make the same mistake.
The removal of Laxman for a 12-ball duck was more straightforward as the batsman got a thin edge to a delivery that angled across and seamed a fraction away. Johnson had a bit of good fortune too; Sehwag's wild flail at a wide, fullish ball that flew off his edge to first slip was more batsman error than good bowling.
Especially pleasing for Johnson was that he found some reverse swing after tea and trapped Ganguly lbw for 47. It was a rotten bit of luck for Ganguly, who was probably struck outside the line - although at first view it looked a reasonable shout - from the first ball after he had a concentration-breaking interruption due to a nosebleed.
But there were some positive signs from Ganguly, who had questions over his place in the side and was playing his first innings since announcing that this Test series would be his last. Apart from one loose waft outside off stump - and he chastised himself furiously for it - he displayed impressive focus.
He occupied the crease for 115 balls and struck only three fours, instead taking his time on a tricky surface. India looked at their most resilient when he and Dravid combined for a 49-run stand but the frustration was that neither man capitalised in the same way Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting had for Australia.
Dravid had to work terribly hard for his 51, which was only his second Test half-century at his home venue. He survived edges that failed to carry to the cordon, deliveries that kept alarmingly low and the occasional ball that threatened to tickle his ribcage. Just as Hussey had been Australia's rock on the second day, India's wall appeared to be solidifying.
A couple of drives through cover and point looked ominous and his half-century came in typical Dravid fashion: he waited for a bad ball, a leg-side stray from Watson and glanced safely for two. But later in the same over Dravid lunged forward, was struck on his back pad and given out in a tight but fair lbw decision from Asad Rauf.
India were 155 for 5 and the second session was barely eight overs old. They could not have believed that they would close the day still batting and with a deficit that had shrunk to 117. Australia's position is still the stronger but they will be desperate to extinguish the Indian spark before it becomes a flame.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo