On a day when India could have had three centurions and yet ended with none, Australia showed just why they have such a good record around the world.
Irrespective of the conditions and the state of the game, this Australia team gives its all, and even a combination of testing heat, a flat pitch and some accomplished batting did not deny the visitors. Chipping away incessantly, Australia bowled India out for 405, garnering a 23-run lead with two days to play.
Rahul Dravid was the one who made the early plays, choosing perfectly which balls to play and which to leave alone. His footwork was decisive, his placement precise and the timing as immaculate as we have seen it in recent times.
Although he never went out of his way to create scoring opportunities, Dravid did not get stuck at any stage, and this fluency ensured that nerves in the Indian dressing-room were perfectly calm even as nightwatchman Ishant Sharma departed early in the day. Sachin Tendulkar, who enjoys batting with Dravid, provided a template on how to play in these conditions.
Though he looked rock solid, and the ball found the middle of the bat regularly, Tendulkar focussed on eliminating risk and accumulating pain-free runs. This did not mean that Tendulkar was in any way boring.
If anything, it was fascinating to see how he waited for exactly the right ball to unfurl the cover drive. One knee bent, head perfectly still, weight transferring just as it should, Tendulkar drove both Ben Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger with such class that even the opposition would have appreciated those strokes.
Against the run of play, however, Dravid (77) fell, feathering an edge to the wicketkeeper off a slanting delivery from Bollinger that demanded a stroke be played.
With VVS Laxman suffering from back spasms, Suresh Raina got a promotion, but seemed anything but keen to cash in. Scratchy to begin with and later outright adventurous, Raina was reprieved twice, first on 48, when Tim Paine fluffed a straightforward stumping, and then on 60, when Mitchell Johnson failed to react in time to a catch at mid-off.
Most batsmen would dig deep when luck favoured them a first time, but Raina continued to chance his arm, and despite occasionally finding the fence, his approach was baffling.
For inspiration, Raina only needed to look 22 yards away, where Tendulkar drove Australia’s bowlers to despair, guarding his wicket with all the resources available to him. Having hardly put a foot wrong on his way to 98, Tendulkar made his first mistake, failing to get bat to a full delivery from part-time offie Marcus North that rapped the pad in front of the stumps.
Just when Raina appeared to be on the road to his second century from three matches, Johnson produced a swift delivery that the left-hand batsman, feet rooted to the crease, had no answer to.
A mini collapse followed, with India losing their last six wickets for just 51 runs to be bowled out for 405. With two days to play, the match stands evenly poised, but time is at a premium for those in pursuit of a result.