More than 35,000 gathered at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Saturday, in the hope of seeing Virender Sehwag blaze away, or perhaps to be part of history as Sachin Tendulkar scored the 77 runs needed to get past Brian Lara's tally. Neither happened, and as wickets tumbled a familiar disgruntlement settled in. Just when it seemed as though all was lost Harbhajan Singh, the man the Australians love to hate, and Zaheer Khan, put together an unlikely and invaluable 80-run partnership for the 8th wicket to lift the gloom, give voice to the crowd and push India towards safety. From a precarious 106 for 4, initially helped along by contributions from Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid India ended the day on 313 for 8.
The day began badly for India with Gautam Gambhir being trapped in front by a quick delivery from Brett Lee that came in just enough to beat the bat. Sehwag fell to a sucker ball from Mitchell Johnson, full and wide of the stumps, perhaps held back a touch, and drove expansively to edge to Matthew Hayden.
Johnson had warmed up nicely but it was not his pace that brought the big wicket of the day. A finger-rolled slower ball outside the off invited the drive from Tendulkar (13) but the little man did not go through with the shot, checking it at the last moment, only presenting Cameron White with a simple catch at cover.
Tail up, Johnson removed Laxman for a 12-ball duck, getting a ball to move away after pitching. Brad Haddin pouched the resultant outside edge and India wobbled at 106 for 4.
Ganguly, Dravid rock
Dravid had begun with positive intent, looking to play the ball into the gap rather than drop it down to his toes. In the series in Sri Lanka Dravid seemed unsure of himself at the crease, but there was none of that on display as he began to skid the ball into the gaps. When he brought up his second fifty in as many Test innings, the crowd roared its approval for the home boy. Soon after there was disappointment for the crowd and visibly for Dravid (51) when he was adjudged lbw trying to defend Shane Watson. The ball, bat and pad were perilously close, and the point of impact was just above the knee roll, so you could understand Dravid's disappointment, while not faulting Asad Rauf.
Where Dravid left off, Ganguly continued. Even if the timing was not impeccable to begin with, and the off-side play less than at Ganguly's best, he was determined to put a price on his wicket. Somehow Ganguly seems to dig deep for an extra bit of inspiration against the Australians, and it was exactly this that carried him through. When Ganguly (47) fell, becoming Johnson's fourth victim after Michael Clarke had cleaned up Mahendra Singh Dhoni India were again in trouble at 232 for 7.
The follow-on, which the Australians were unlikely to enforce in any case, was avoided, but India were still in danger of conceding a significant lead. Sensing a kill, Australia began to take a few liberties on the field, with words coming the way of both batsmen.
It was not as though Harbhajan and Zaheer were all dour defence. In fact the hacking drives over the off-side field and the shuffled flicks to on, drove the bowlers to frustration. The pair had added 80 and Harbhajan had his third fifty in four Tests against Australia before he followed a short, wide ball from Watson and edged to the keeper.
The manner in which Watson celebrated, you would be forgiven for thinking he had scalped Tendulkar first ball, but then, that's the effect Harbhajan has on the Australians. Kumble joined Zaheer (35 not out) briefly before the batsmen accepted the offer of ligh and called a final halt to proceedings that had earlier been interrupted by rain.