India started the day at 313 for 8, still well behind the Aussie total of 430. The Aussies still had upper hand in the game, but the situation could have been a lot worse if it hadn’t been for the efforts of the Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan on day 3. India’s game plan would have been to occupy as much time at the crease as possible, add another 30-40 runs, and get Australia out for under 200 runs to have any remote chance of winning the game. Even if everything fell into place, it would be a tall order for a 5th day pitch.
The first part of India’s plan went according to plan. They occupied the crease for another 18 overs and added a further 47 runs bringing the lead down to just 70 runs. Considering the fact that when Ganguly – the last recognized batsman, was out when the score was 232, it was great rear guard fight back. But for the last 3 wickets adding 128 runs, India would have been a lot worse. Zaheer Khan was not out on 57, making him the highest scorer in the Indian camp to nicely go with his five wicket haul in the Australian first innings.
The Aussies were left with 6 overs to negotiate before the lunch break and there were a few nervous moments for the Aussies including a first over LBW shout of the bowling of Zaheer Khan. The Aussies went in with their score on 9 for no loss.
The Indian skipper didn’t take the field before the lunch session and he was again a notable absentee on the field. Dhoni was captaining the team and he started the session with Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. My initial thoughts were that he should have started the session again with Zaheer and Ishant, but in Harbhajan’s defense, he did bowl a lot better than he did in the first innings.
The over cautious, slow Aussie approach before the lunch break was understandable, but they continued in the same vein after lunch. The scoring rate by Australian standards was appalling. May be it had something to do with their “New Age Cricket” approach. Or may be it was the pitch. Or may be it was the Indian bowling. Or may be, it was a combination of all three as the scoring rate dipped to around 1.96 in the 26th over (51 runs).
But by that time, India had already scalped the two vital wickets of Hayden and Ponting. Zaheer had Hayden dismissed LBW for 13, while Ishant Sharma had Ponting caught at mid wicket for 17. Ponting’s dismissal was a beauty as he was outfoxed by a slower delivery from Ishant and ended up offering a low catch to Laxman.
At Tea, the Aussies were 74/2 in the 33 overs they had faced and the session clearly belonged to India.
Earlier, in the post lunch session, Gambhir had dropped Katich of the bowling of Harbhajan Singh. After Tea, Harbhajan eventually got his man when Katich just prodded at a a flighted delivery that bounced a bit and lobbed a simple catch to silly point. He had occupied the crease a fair bit (140 balls), but had only scored 34 runs. His dismissal brought in Clarke who hit the very first ball for a boundary. I was starting to think that maybe having Katich at the crease was probably a good thing 🙂
But Ishant Sharma again bowled a slower delivery to Clarke and suckered him into driving straight into the hands of Sehwag. Australia at that stage were 115/4.
A few overs later, it was the turn of Hussey to go as he shoulderd arms to a ball pitched outside his off stump, only to see it turn in to hit his stump. It hit a crack on the way and turned like a Warnie leg break to have the Aussies reeling at 128/5 in the 51st over.
With the over all lead at just under 200 and the top order back in the pavilion, the Indians were seeing a glimmer of hope. But the pair of Haddin and Watson had other plans. There were quite a few dropped chances and streaky shots, but they managed to score runs and do it fast. At the end of the day, they had stretched the lead to 263.
Ponting must be hoping to score some quick runs in the first hour or so of play tomorrow before he declares leaving the Indians a score of around 330.
72 overs were enough for Ponting to claim the 10 Indian wickets for victory on the final day at Sydney last summer, but he was also criticized for being too cautious and delaying his declaration. He will have that on his mind before he does his declaration tomorrow, but then the Bangalore wicket is quite different to the Sydney one and the cracks in the pitch are also widening up. And just as India was a bowler short for most of the day (Kumble was off the field for a major portion of the day and is bowling with an injury), the Aussies may be short of a full strength bowling attack as Stuart Clark is apparently carrying an injury too.
At this stage though, only 2 results seem likely – either an Australian victory or a draw. Unless the Indians pull a rabbit out of the hat…