Ponting's double-hundred puts Australia in charge
Close India 366 and 27 for 2 (Dravid 6*, Ganguly 6*) trail Australia 558 (Ponting 257, Kumble 6-176) by 165 runs
Ricky Ponting's 257 put Australia in a position to dictate terms
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Ricky Ponting's restrained and mature 257, his second double-century in successive Tests, was the highlight of the third day at the MCG, one that went almost perfectly for Australia. First, batting much more cautiously than they did on the second day so as to deny India any chance of coming back into the game, they ground out a lead of 192 in two-and-a-half sessions. Then, in what was a dramatic change of pace and mood in the game, they whipped out Akash Chopra and Virender Sehwag late in the day to leave India 27 for 2 at stumps.
Australia's gradually ascending dominance, culminating in the dismissal of a pair who had put on 141 in the first innings, overshadowed the lion-hearted effort of Anil Kumble, who took 6 for 176 in 51 overs.
Ponting's double-century was the third of a remarkable year, one in which he averages almost 100 in Tests, and his name was the common thread in a series of partnerships that completely took India out of the game. Ponting's double-century here appeared much more inevitable than the one at Adelaide, where he attacked the Indian bowling relentlessly and often chancily. His approach was closer to that adopted by Rahul Dravid in the second Test: he knew he was in command of the bowling, and set himself the task of batting as long as possible. He entered yesterday with the score at 30 for 1, and by the time he was out late in the day, Australia were 555 for 9.
Indeed, Australia's tactics were markedly different from that of the day before, when they attacked with gusto and piled up over 300 at great speed. On a pitch with uneven bounce, and with batting becoming steadily more difficult, they realised that ensuring a big first-innings lead was more important than scoring quickly, and set about grinding out that advantage. They added 79 runs in the first session for the loss of Damien Martyn, and 84 in the second for the loss of Simon Katich. (As a measure of comparision, they made 114 runs between lunch and tea yesterday, and 158 in the last session.) The final session today yielded 88, as wickets fell in a flurry, but by this time the advantage was sizeable.
India watched the game slip away from them slowly over the course of the day, though they would not have been too displeased with their morning's work. Not only did they remove Martyn, caught behind off Ajit Agarkar for 31, they also sent Steve Waugh back to the pavilion retired hurt.
Waugh came out to another standing ovation, but what followed was anticlimactic. He left his first ball alone, and then, as Agarkar dropped the next ball short, turned his back on the ball. His head was pointed in the direction of third slip as the ball hit him painfully on the elbow, and after an examination from the physio, he decided to go off.
Waugh was replaced by Katich, and if India could have claimed another wicket at this point, they would have got into the tail. But Katich hung around to add 64 for the fifth wicket with Ponting, before he was caught off bad and pad by Chopra off Kumble (437 for 5). Waugh now returned, with an arm guard over his left forearm, though he was never at ease during his innings of 19.
But Ponting at the other end was dominant, and as he neared his double-hundred he came down the pitch to Kumble for the first time in the day and hit him over the infield for boundaries in successive overs. He got to the landmark with a push on the leg side off Ashish Nehra, and celebrated exuberantly before raising his broad bat with the lime-green handle to the packed house.
Ponting lost Waugh soon after tea, lbw padding up once too often to Kumble (502 for 6). India then steadily worked their way through the tail, with one end kept up all through the afternoon by Kumble.
Anil Kumble took six wickets, including the prized scalp of Ricky Ponting
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Kumble bowled not only with great heart - something often said of him - but also with great skill and guile in an overseas Test match, something of which he has often been accused of being incapable. The great change discernible in his bowling over the last year, especially in this series, is that of his stock ball. Previously it used to be the top-spinner that hurried on to the batsman after pitching, but now it is the googly, which is slightly slower, and not only turns into the right-hander but also bounces. It is a wicket-taking ball: Waugh was out believing the ball would turn the other way, and Katich beaten by the extra bounce to be caught off bat and pad. Ponting was Kumble's final victim, charging down the wicket, missing, and being stumped for 257 (555 for 9). Both men had put in magnificent efforts on the day.
Australia were bowled out for 558, at just the right time for them, and India were left with the task of seeing out 11 overs before stumps. It was not to happen, though Chopra could consider himself unlucky to be given out caught behind off Nathan Bracken when the ball actually brushed the top of his back pad (5 for 1). When Brett Lee dismissed Sehwag, flicking uppishly and caught brilliantly at square leg by Brad Williams, Australia were jubilant (19 for 2).
Lee would have fancied his chances of a second wicket when Sourav Ganguly emerged at No. 4, in a effort to ensure that Sachin Tendulkar was available to India on the crucial fourth day, but Ganguly batted with great composure, before nearly giving it away in the dying stages with a couple of inside-edges past his stumps. He lived to fight another day, but India will be hard-pressed to save this game from here.
Chandrahas Choudhury is a staff writer with Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.