India tighten stranglehold on match
India's top order set the table, and two of Australia's familiar tormenters tucked in to leave the home side five wickets away from a crushing win, and the series lead, against the No. 1 side in the world. Gautam Gambhir scored his second century - and first at home - while Virender Sehwag and Mahendra Singh Dhoni raced to half-centuries to set Australia a mammoth 516 in a little over four sessions.
To drive home their advantage, India dismissed Australia's openers in the last over before tea, tore the heart out of their middle order, and had them haemorrhaging at 141 for 5 . Harbhajan Singh, who took 3 for 23, and Ishant Sharma had once again turned on the heat when India needed it most.
Australia had launched a spirited chase for seven overs, racing to 49, but Harbhajan's double-wicket over before tea stunned them. Matthew Hayden, who had begun in one-day mode, tried to sweep and was lbw for 29. Three balls later Simon Katich, losing his composure, threw his bat at a flighted delivery and was superbly caught by Sachin Tendulkar, who had to dive forward to take the catch inches off the grass. The wickets had come in Harbhajan's first over, an inspired bowling change by Dhoni after the new-ball bowlers had been expensive.
Harbhajan tossed it up more than usual but a shooter brought him his third wicket soon after tea. The length was short and the ball skidded through to Michael Hussey who suffered from poor shot selection: he tried to pull but was hit plumb in front. The wicket sparked manic celebrations in Mohali for it was Harbhajan's 299th.
The decisive blow came in the next over. Ricky Ponting was new to the crease and his feet hadn't even started moving when his off stump was flattened by Ishant Sharma who found the bat-pad gap with a full ball. It was the third time that Sharma had dismissed Ponting in the series, and the fifth overall. Shane Watson was the next to go, hit in front by one that nipped into him from Ishant, and was the fifth wicket to fall in the space of nine runs. Ishant achieved significant movement both in the air and off the pitch and had 2 for 29 to show for his efforts.
A dogged 83-run partnership in 29.3 overs between Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin denied India any more success, but there was no denying who's day it was.
Unlike the Indians, Australia's bowlers could find no assistance in the pitch and struggled to contain the batsmen as they pursued quick runs. When play began, Gambhir and Sehwag made sure the platform built over three days was not wasted. Both openers found the gaps in the field with ease because Ponting had several men on the boundary.
Gambhir was fortunate to survive a thick edge off Cameron White, which brushed the wicketkeeper's pads and was spilled by Hayden at slip, but there was nothing fortuitous about a twinkle-toed six off the legspinner which sailed over long-on. The ball didn't always come onto Sehwag's bat but he repeatedly tried to whip it between midwicket and mid-on. Apart from the powerful shots, Sehwag and Gambhir also dropped the ball with soft hands and ran swiftly between the wickets. Sehwag fell with a rare second-innings hundred in his sights, edging Peter Siddle to Haddin on 90.
India held Rahul Dravid back and Dhoni walked in at No 3 to continue the morning's aggression. He ran hard and hit the ball even harder. His unbeaten 68 was his second half-century of the match.
Gambhir's previous best in India was 96 against South Africa in 2004, and the wait for a hundred ended with a lavish clip past mid-on for four. However, he chipped White to mid-off soon after reaching his hundred but had ensured India's advantage. Dhoni added 66 with Sourav Ganguly, who was last out for 27, after the lead passed 500.
Australia have been set a target of 500 or more on six occasions and they've lost each time. With only five wickets in hand, the odds are in favour of a seventh.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo