Mishra double gives India the upper hand
India took the honours on day two in Mohali, amassing 469 and then putting Australia under extreme pressure by claiming four wickets before stumps. Sourav Ganguly, who scored his 16th Test century, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni batted in contrasting fashion to force Australia on the defensive, and debutant Amit Mishra struck twice to maintain the intensity created by India's new-ball pair.
Ganguly, who had struggled in the series against Sri Lanka, put on 109 for the seventh wicket with Dhoni to maintain the advantage built on the first day. Ganguly fell for 102 but Dhoni continued to attack, forcing Ricky Ponting to spread his field far and wide. Australia's bowlers struggled to make breakthroughs and most of their wickets came when India tried to up the momentum.
There was a lot of speculation before the series began that Ganguly wouldn't survive four Tests, but he is a man few can predict. Not long after lunch, he tucked Cameron White off his pads towards deep midwicket boundary and indulged himself. His hundred-watt smile and fist-pumping celebration was far from smug; and it seemed it was meant more for himself than anyone else. He had scratched his way into the nineties, while Dhoni entertained at the other end with powerful pulls and drives, and his celebrations signified the achievement of a personal goal.
Ganguly batted with restraint in the morning, watching the ball carefully, playing late, and letting several deliveries pass outside off. He batted 122 deliveries yesterday, and wasn't about to throw it away. He didn't thrust the bat much, took the short-pitched deliveries on merit, and nudged the singles around. He began by pulling Brett Lee for four but was also made to look ungainly by other bouncers. His concentration never wavered.
Taking a leaf out of coach Gary Kirsten's book - keep out the straight ones and try to ignore the others unless you can cut or drive - Ganguly was an almost unnoticeable accumulator. His second century in Mohali came 11 years after his previous one here, and like that hundred against Sri Lanka, this was scored at a strike-rate of just over 45.
Ganguly's stodgy approach, however, was complemented by Dhoni's aggression. He pulled his first ball - a short one from Lee - for four and then hooked Siddle for six before turning his attention back to Lee for two more fours in an over. Repeatedly getting inside the line of the short deliveries, Dhoni picked off runs into yawning leg-side spaces at a steady clip. He also waited for the ball, steering backward of point and driving in the V. His running was, as always, excellent and he urged Ganguly to be alert as well.
Batting remained easy, with no swing or variable bounce to speak of, and the two contrasting approaches from Ganguly and Dhoni frustrated Australia in what was almost a perfect morning for the home team.
As has been the case in the past, a shuffle down the track just after a hundred was Ganguly's undoing and Lee tumbled backwards at long-off to take the catch. The wicket was against the run of play, but Dhoni didn't let it hinder him. He passed 1500 Test runs, brought up his 10th fifty with a six over long-on, and hit three more later. He was the last wicket, lbw for 92, and gave the persevering Siddle his third wicket.
The Australians had spent nearly five sessions in the field and, when it was their turn to bat, Zaheer Khan ensured that Matthew Hayden did stay very long under the hot Mohali sun. He nailed Hayden for the third time in three innings - and seven overall - by forcing an inside edge on to the stumps with his third delivery.
A short while after tea, Ishant Sharma had a close shout against Ponting which Rudi Koertzen turned down. A few balls later another sharp inswinger hit Ponting on the pad, and this time he was on the back foot, leaving Australia 17 for 2. Zaheer and Ishant attacked through their opening spell and the change to spin didn't release the pressure.
Mishra's 18th ball in Test cricket resulted in a wicket. Katich, who had gone to 33 with some soft-handed strokes, played on. Mishra tied down the batsmen by mixing googlies with flippers and pitching them on a length. The spinners turned the ball sharply; Michael Hussey had one thick edge bypass slip and was reprieved by Dhoni on 25 off Harbhajan Singh. Hussey rode his luck to 37 by stumps, looking on as Mishra struck in the last over of the day, hitting Michael Clarke on the pad with a googly from round the stumps. India were without Anil Kumble in this game but Mishra has filled the gap impressively so far.
India's bowling efforts will, however, be a postscript. This was Ganguly and Dhoni's day.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo