Just as Australia hope to see the back of VVS Laxman early, India banked on the same with Matthew Hayden. But this time, the Aussie opening batsman had other intentions. Buoyed by the spirit of Australia Day, the hosts (322/3) powered themselves into a good position on Day three of the Final Test at Adelaide. Matthew Hayden was the star of the day, scoring his third hundred of the series and keeping his team's hopes of winning the Test alive.
It wasn't exactly bad bowling as far as India is concerned – just good Australian batting on a wicket that still had plenty of runs to offer, with some amount of cobras showing up, just gradually though.
Watchful yet blossoming…
It was a different Australian opening partnership this time around. Hayden's return to the fold made instant impact as his partner, Phil Jaques, looked very confident in his approach. While Hayden was making sure that the Aussies kept the scoreboard ticking, Jaques held on to himself, kept out some important overs and played a truly workman like innings. Hayden did what he does best – treat bowlers with absolute disdain.
Resuming on an overnight score of 36 not out, Hayden wasted no time in reaching his half-century in typical style – putting one away from Harbhajan for a boundary through backward point. His fifty gave Australia all the impetus they needed in chasing a big Indian total. Jaques, in the meanwhile was useful to the situation by rotating the strike at every given opportunity and keeping the Indian fielders busy on a hot day.
Just as it seemed that the Aussies were low on tempo, Hayden unleashed a boundary off Pathan, which set them in motion again. A huge six off Kumble followed and then it seemed like a watershed of runs flowing from the openers' bats. Jaques also raised his fifty with an elegant drive past mid-off. Australia, still without loss at lunch, braving the odd bounce of the Adelaide wicket with Hayden eyeing his third consecutive hundred of the series.
Kumble struck in the second over after the luncheon break to provide the visitors with their first success of the morning removing Jaques, who tried slog sweeping from the rough. The end of a partnership which kept India toiling hard for a session and a bit.
A Haydos Special in Bradman's Home
Despite Jaques' fall, Hayden kept going and was looking ominous for the Indians. He played some exquisite strokes, putting anything loose away from the Indian bowlers. A slap sweep off Harbhajan took him to 94 and then a misfield from Sehwag in the boundary, helped him reach 98. It was a nervous stint in the middle for a man who scored 29 hundreds before, as he played out a maiden over from Ishant Sharma. And then the jubilation as he slammed his 30th ton, which took him past Sir Don. Showed exactly what Australia missed at Perth.
But, he wouldn't hang around much after that as it took a moment of brilliance from Sharma to remove the imperious Hayden. Sharma bowled him through the gate with a "special one" that reverse swung into Hayden instead of going away, as it left the hand. End of an innings that could perhaps produce the goods for the Australians. As Hayden walked back to the pavilion, a massive ovation from the highly appreciative Adelaide crowd followed. The Queenslander made 103 off 200 balls, to give Australia a superlative platform from where they could near the Indian target.
A slow progress
Hayden's wicket saw Michael Hussey stride in to bat. And Ponting had just come in after Jaques, so it turned out to be a relatively new partnership in the middle for Australia. It also handed a great opportunity for the visitors to tighten the noose and restrict the flow of runs. Hussey got off to a rather slow start – holding the strike and leaving many balls alone. Ponting in the meanwhile also started applying himself, with a steely resolve not seen before in the series.
Hussey battled his way through to tea, with a lone boundary off Anil Kumble. Immediately after the interval, India missed a golden opportunity to strike as Hussey edged one to Dravid, who dropped a difficult chance. Ponting kept the scoring going with some quick running between the wickets and the odd boundary as he unnoticeably approached his fifty. Hussey looked like struggling against Pathan, surviving some very close leg-before appeals after the break. But he could not survive any further, as Pathan cleaned him up with a snorter of a delivery. It was pitched outside the off-stump from Pathan, and the ball swung into Hussey sharply as he tried playing from the crease. Hussey went for a sluggish 22 off 81 balls, and the partnership with Ponting yielded 81 runs off 27.2 overs in an uncharacteristic Aussie run-rate of 2.96.
The rebuilding act
Michael Clarke then joined Ponting at the wicket, looking to consolidate from where the others had left off. Clarke showed signs of aggressive intent when he slammed a flurry of boundaries off Kumble. He brought some momentum to the Australian innings after being tied down by the Hussey-Ponting partnership. And Ponting seemed to benefit from Clarke's catalysing role as he grew in confidence and wasted no time in reaching his fifty off 114 balls.
Ponting then opened up and took charge of proceedings along with Clarke. He kept using his feet effectively to his tormentor, Harbhajan Singh and did not give him enough of an opportunity to settle down into a rhythm. Ponting stroked Sharma for two boundaries in the penultimate over of the day, before ending at an unbeaten 79 at stumps, while Clarke ended the day at 37 not out, with Australia forcing a strong reply at 322/3.