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October 17, 2008
India's batsmen sandwiched a middle-order wobble in the afternoon with excellent batting during the first and third sessions to inch ahead of Australia on the first day in Mohali. A brief passage of play, during which India lost three wickets for 17 runs, threatened to undo the 104-run platform built in the morning but Sachin Tendulkar, who became Test cricket's highest run-scorer, and Sourav Ganguly ensured that the initiative wasn't lost by batting the majority of the final session.
Unlike the pitch in Bangalore, which had variable bounce from the start, the surface at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium was true. There was hardly any swing or movement off the pitch; the ball came on to the bat, and sped off it, allowing the batsmen to drive on the up or hit through the line. Australia's bowlers, who failed to bowl disciplined lines during the first session, were more accurate - and successful - after lunch. At tea, given the outstanding batting conditions, Australia held the edge having reduced India to 174 for 4. Another wicket would have made it their day but they were blunted by Tendulkar and Ganguly, who scored at nearly four an over without any risks.
Tendulkar broke Brian Lara's record off the first ball after tea, steering Peter Siddle to third man, but, once the seemingly endless fireworks subsided, India needed a much more substantial contribution from him. It was Ganguly, however, who set the pace initially. He had taken 17 balls to get off the mark before tea but after the interval he hit the ball through gaps in the offside with precision, driving Shane Watson and Peter Siddle for three boundaries between point and cover. He milked that region for 41 of his runs and, apart from a stumping against Cameron White - Rudi Koertzen did not refer it to the third umpire - and a couple of uncertain wafts against the second new ball, his innings was calm.
Towards the end of the day, Tendulkar was batting so confidently that he despatched the first delivery with the second new ball, bowled by Siddle, through cover with a back foot drive. He tried to repeat the shot the next ball but inside edged the ball past his stumps. His third attempt to push the new ball through the offside 15 minutes before stumps landed in Matthew Hayden's hands at first slip and gave Siddle his maiden Test wicket. It ended a 142-run stand and helped even the balance between the teams.
Before that error in judgement, however, Tendulkar had scored runs all round the ground and wasn't tied down by any bowler. He was severe on Siddle, against whom he scored 29 off 20 balls, driving him twice past mid-on for four and steering him to the third-man boundary. He also scored at a strike-rate of above 75 against Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson, who was once again Australia's best bowler. When Ponting brought on Cameron White, Tendulkar attempted to unsettle the legspinner by charging down the pitch and lofting down the ground. He brought up his fifty - his 50th in Test cricket - and also became the first batsmen to score 12,000 Test runs.
Those records were preceded by a spell in which Australia regained ground lost during the morning session; though their bowlers rectified mistakes made earlier in the day, the wickets were primarily due to lapses by the batsmen.
Johnson was largely responsible for the fightback. He ended Virender Sehwag's charge in the morning, caught down the leg side, and dismissed Laxman in a similar manner after lunch. In between those wickets he contained Dravid by bowling full and wide with seven fielders on the off side, and induced an edge from Gambhir as he tried to drive another full delivery through cover. Australia picked up 3 for 17 and recovered from the rapid start made by Gambhir and Sehwag.
Gambhir was struck on the helmet by Siddle's first ball in international cricket but recovered to drive the ball through cover, a stroke that would become a feature of his innings. Sehwag ensured the run-rate stayed around six an over by piercing the infield frequently. He punished Siddle when the line was too straight, nudging him down to fine leg, and flicking to the square-leg boundary twice in succession.
The batsmen hit 10 boundaries in the first hour and raced to 63 in 13 overs. Having tried all his fast bowlers, Ricky Ponting gave the final over of the session to the left-arm spinner Michael Clarke. Gambhir took the opportunity to reach his half-century before lunch by stepping out to loft Clarke twice in a row over mid-on.
The Australians came out after the break with different lines of attack. Watson and Siddle restricted Gambhir's scoring by aiming short balls at his ribs. Johnson slanted deliveries full and wide outside off stump and asked the batsmen to drive with seven fielders on the off side. Dravid chased one and was beaten, after which he let several go. He eventually played on while trying to force Lee through the off side.
India had two new batsmen at the crease a short while before tea and had to begin from scratch. Tendulkar and Ganguly protected the innings from further damage.
Pataudi Jr caught a young English fan's fancy for his princely ways and his heroic batting