This Australian team may be short on legends, with some big names moving on in the recent past, but they certainly are as plucky and determined as any side that preceded them. When they began their innings with a mountain to climb, it would have been easy to succumb to the pressure India's first-innings 613 exerted. But Australia — no doubt helped by some butter-fingered Indian catching — fought back with 577, led by Michael Clarke, who scored his eighth and probably least attractive Test hundred. The visitors then winkled out two Indian wickets towards the end, and for the first time in the match can feel safe.
On an overnight 21, Clarke should have been back in the pavilion early. Amit Mishra had lured Clarke into coming down the pitch to play a big shot, and turned the ball away from the bat enough to draw the false shot. Ishant Sharma, at mid-off, reacted late, and badly, to a simple chance. Undeterred, Clarke kept at the bowlers, but Shane Watson was not as effective. Watson shuffled across his stumps far too much and missed a Virender Sehwag off-break, only to see his off stump pegged back.
Brad Haddin could have been dismissed more than once in the first over of spin he faced, but awkwardly managed to preserve his wicket. Just when India’s bowlers should have cranked it up a notch, they flagged. Anil Kumble, having recovered from the deep cut he sustained on Friday, took the field at the end of the first hour and ended Haddin’s misery. The latter gave the bowler a mindless charge and was stumped. Kumble’s taken more important wickets in his life, but relief was writ large on the face as he picked up his first wicket of the series with the 442nd ball he delivered.
Then followed a period of missed opportunities. Although this Indian unit is slow on the field and had more than one weak throwing arm in its midst, the catching has been of a high standard — till today. Clarke seemed intent on missing out on his century, but India would have none of it. On 90, Clarke top-edged Sehwag towards midwicket and though V.V.S. Laxman settled well under the swirling ball, he could not hold onto it as it popped out of his hands. On 93, Clarke had another go, heaving Sehwag to Mishra at deep midwicket, only to see the fielder fluff a low catch.
With the smile constant on his face, one isn’t sure if Sehwag was frustrated by catches going down off his bowling, but he managed to seal a well-deserved five-for when Cameron White (44) dragged one back onto his stumps, ending the 106-run seventh-wicket partnership.
Clarke eventually got to his century, and extended his knock to 112 before coming down the pitch to hit Mishra over the top. This time Zaheer Khan held the offering. Clarke’s innings took Australia to 577, and on a day when India dropped four straight chances, the captain took some solace in being back among the wickets, ending with three.
What would not have pleased him was Sehwag's early dismissal, bowled off the inside edge to Brett Lee. This followed the departure of nightwatchman Ishant Sharma as India ended the day on 43 for 3. The lead is 79, but now it's only academic.