Slowly but steadily India gain the edge
India gained a crucial 86-run lead on an extremely tactical day's cricket - one that often resembled a cat-and-mouse game - through a triple-strike in the middle session and four wickets shortly before stumps. Australia scored 166 runs in 85.4 overs, strangled by the pressure built up by defensive field placings and niggardly pace bowling in the morning, and the loss of the last seven wickets for 100 runs undid a strong platform. Mahendra Singh Dhoni changed his tactics after lunch, giving Australia the opportunity to be aggressive, but they failed to overtake India's 441.
It was clear from the first session which team had a lead to defend. India went in with eight fielders on the off side, repeatedly bowled outside the off stump, and delayed the introduction of the spinners. Australia, who had to force the pace, decided not to start the day with innovative strokeplay and as a result only 42 runs came before lunch. On a good batting strip in front of another poor crowd, Simon Katich and Michael Hussey made steady rather than spectacular process. India's method should have taken care of Katich on 94, but Rahul Dravid put down a simple catch at first slip off Ishant, grasping it easily and then spilling it.
However, unlike in Nagpur four years ago, Katich pressed on and got to his century. The first aggressive shot Katich played - just before lunch - undid him, trapping him lbw to a late-swinging yorker from Zaheer. Katich had faced 50 deliveries since reaching a hundred, 31 on his final score of 102. It had been a strategic morning as the game - on the surface - drifted, but it was interesting viewing as both teams waited for the other to blink first.
Slowly, almost unnoticeably, Hussey moved on to 90. He left the ball well and never looked like getting out. There was the odd flourish, most noticeably a brilliant reverse-sweep for four off Harbhajan Singh, collected from well outside leg stump, to go with an inside-out drive off Ishant. Shortly after Michael Clarke was undone by a peach from Ishant for a 44-ball 8, Hussey was run out. It needed something out of the blue to dislodge a man who seemed set to grind India into the dust. Hussey, on 90, punched off the back foot and M Vijay at silly point intercepted the ball and flicked it back to Dhoni, who broke the stumps with Hussey on the move for a single.
Eleven deliveries after Hussey departed, Harbhajan cleaned up Shane Watson with one that spun, clipped the forearm and rolled on to off stump. Brad Haddin and Cameron White added 52, but they were never entirely comfortable during their partnership. Haddin was troubled by Amit Mishra and survived a stumping appeal and a couple of shouts to balls that pitched just outside leg stump. Dhoni continued with the old ball and Mishra had his man when Haddin's nervous padding resulted in ball brushing bat on its way to slip.
Dhoni took the new ball and Jason Krejza quickly became Ishant's 13th victim of the series, trapped in front by a scuttling inswinger. Ishant should have had Mitchell Johnson in the same over, but VVS Laxman dropped a regulation chance at second slip. As the shadows lengthened at 4.30, White drove Ishant sumptuously through the covers for the first boundary in 20 overs and a powerful sweep raised his best score and Australia's 350. The very next ball, trying to push a sluggish run-rate, White (46) chipped Harbhajan to long-on. If White had played well enough to deserve his fifty, Harbhajan had earned his third wicket with his perseverance on an unhelpful surface. In the next over Johnson's wild slog settled in long-on's hands and India had secured an 86-run lead.
India's openers saw out the one remaining over and will harbour hopes of batting Australia out of the Test.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo