Ponting and Bichel put Australia on top
Close India 180 for 4 (Laxman 55*, Dravid 43*) trail Australia 556 (Ponting 242, Katich 75, Langer 58, Kumble 5-154) by 376 runs
Ponting drove his way to a brilliant double-century
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After a day dominated completely by the batsmen, the bowlers had much more to cheer on the second day at the Adelaide Oval. Anil Kumble's three strikes in an over ended the Australian innings rather abruptly for 556, after Ricky Ponting's magnificent 242 had raised visions of a 600-plus total, but the star turn came from Andy Bichel, whose three wickets reduced India to a shaky 85 for 4. Rahul Dravid (43 not out) and VVS Laxman (51 not out) then got together - not for the first time against Australia - and stitched together a 95-run partnership to steady the innings and take India to 180 for 4 at stumps. But with 177 still required to stave off the follow-on, Australia held all the aces in the Test.
The Indian innings was rocked in a nine-over period on either side of tea, when four wickets fell for 19. Virender Sehwag and Akash Chopra had got India off to a smashing start, bringing up the fifty in only 9.4 overs, before Bichel struck. He began the slide with an innocuous half-volley, which Chopra drove uppishly. Showing wonderful athleticism, Bichel got down low and kept his balance to come up with a magnificent return catch (66 for 1).
Four overs later, he foxed Sehwag with a legcutter bowled with the fingers held across the seam. The ball bounced a fraction more than Sehwag expected, and his prod was easily held by Matthew Hayden at short gully (81 for 2). The openers had done their job, though, and on a belter, it was time for the Indian middle order to come to the party.
Or was it? Sachin Tendulkar, yet to score a run in the series after his duck at the Gabba, almost got a second one here - Justin Langer's throw, a loopy one rather than a flat, hard hit, saved Tendulkar as he scampered a quick single on the off side. That turned out to be his only run of the innings, as Bichel floated a full-length delivery wide outside off, Tendulkar flashed a cover-drive but only managed a nick to Adam Gilchrist (83 for 3). From being the worst bowler on show at Brisbane, Bichel was suddenly the star.
The Indians continued to be in self-destruct mode, as Sourav Ganguly pushed a ball past mid-on, ran a single, turned back for the second, and suddenly realised that Dravid wasn't interested. Brad Williams's throw wasn't the most accurate, but it was still good enough to defeat Ganguly's desperate lunge (85 for 4).
Dravid and Laxman then injected some common sense to the proceedings with a carefully constructed partnership. They put away the bad balls which came along - Dravid played two magnificent strokes, a pull and a straight-drive, off consecutive balls from Bichel early in the stand, while Laxman displayed those magical wrists in flicking balls outside off to the leg side - but for the most part, both eschewed the risks.
Steve Waugh turned to Stuart MacGill, who extracted a fair amount of turn, but the lack of pace on the track meant that the batsmen were seldom troubled. The closest Australia came to a wicket was through another run-out chance, when Katich missed a direct hit which would have found Laxman well short of the crease.
Earlier, Ponting continued from where he had left off on the first day, with plenty of support from Gillespie. Gilchrist departed after a brief flurry of strokes, pulling Ajit Agarkar to Sehwag at square leg for 29 (426 for 6), while Bichel was snapped up by Chopra at short leg off Kumble (473 for 7).
Then came the 83-run eighth-wicket stand. Ponting started the day quietly, requiring 13 overs to get his first boundary of the day, but then spanked two more in quick succession to reach his double-hundred, of 289 balls. With home-boy Jason Gillespie (48 not out) providing plenty of entertainment, Australia were motoring along when Kumble spoilt the fun. He induced Ponting to edge a ball which bounced a trifle more than the batsman expected, and the catch was easily snaffled by Dravid at slip. With Ponting out of the way, the rest was easy for Kumble, as Williams was bowled through the gate, and Stuart MacGill trapped in front. Kumble finished with 5 for 154, but at the end of the day, the Indians still had plenty of work to do.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.