Not that India had many reasons to be delighted with their batting effort on Friday, but if they had the option of defending 412 in the fourth innings before the start of the third Test, they would have taken it. Most probably, they would have done so unconditionally had they also known that they would pluck out both openers before stumps and go in to the fourth day tail and chin up.
Strictly in terms of numbers – which may not necessarily be of prime importance to the world champions – Australia face a task that has been achieved just thrice in over 130 years of Test cricket and only once did a team get more than what they have to, in a successful fourth-innings chase. So in theory, the odds are stacked against them and the Indians will have to stick to their plan to ensure that there are no riders here.It will not be easy because there are still some runs in the pitch, but Anil Kumble and his bowlers will take heart from the fact that there is some bounce in it as well and if they keep probing consistently and wait for the batsmen to err without getting too worked up, they stand an excellent chance of making the scoreline 1-2 heading into the final Test.
That's something only Irfan Pathan did when India bowled and that he was rewarded with the wickets of the openers was the ideal lesson for others. After contributing some invaluable runs, R.P. Singh got too carried away and Ishant Sharma looked overexcited which meant some cheap boundaries for Australia. It didn’t matter much because there was enough in the bank but on Saturday, that’s something Kumble will keep an eye on.
What India finally got was looking distant at one point because of yet another display of application error by the frontline batsmen. It was overcast when play started with Brett Lee and Stuart Clark getting appreciable movement to keep them under pressure. But that was not the only reason behind the capitulation of the top guns. Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly paid for poor judgement outside off, while Sachin Tendulkar perished playing across the line to one that pitched outside off and came in.
It doesn't fetch runs, but batting at the highest level against a quality attack has a lot to do with leaving the ball. Pathan did that beautifully in the first session before hanging is bat out in the second over after lunch and with six down and 278 ahead, India were not as comfortable as they were at the start of the day.
The lead wouldn't have gone beyond 400 had V.V.S. Laxman not come good at this juncture. With a shaky M.S. Dhoni just about keeping his wicket intact, Laxman wisely forgot about the dipping scoring rate and concentrated on occupying the crease. Progress was painstaking but with Ricky Ponting forced to use Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds from opposite ends with an eye on the poor over rate, the batsmen got the time to settle down against an attack that was far less challenging than what Australia had at their disposal.
Dhoni played a few big shots after playing himself in and India were looking at batting till well after tea when shortly before the break, the wicketkeeper fell attempting a fancy sweep. Kumble chased a wide one soon after and with the total reading 235 for eight, all practical hopes of pushing the lead to beyond 400 were gone. It was here that Laxman found an unexpected partner in RP and the 51 they added for the ninth wicket can just turn out to be the clincher from India's point of view.
It was a partnership dominated by the left-arm pacer in terms of runs and apart from stretching the lead to what India couldn't think of at one stage, frustrated the Australians. They tried everything, brought back Lee and Clark, but whatever threat they posed, was in the form of these two. Mitchell Johnson at best provided good support, while Shaun Tait was a huge letdown. The tail wagged and wagged and ensured that there was only one team that would start Day 4 tail up.