It was a day when India could not put a foot wrong. Conversely this was not a day Australia would want to remember in a hurry.
There was nothing world champion-like about Australia’s maneuvers with the bat or in the field. They appeared lost without a plot and no clue about how to tide over their losses. India, on the other hand, continued to stay on top of the game, causing plenty of discomfort for the visitors. Australia’s bowling was listless and indisciplined; their batting effort puzzling; their overall tactics in this team betraying the hollowness of their words, threats or assessments of their opponents.
After Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir gave India a rousing start in the second innings in the final session on day three, Indian hopes of raising a 500 plus target was strengthened. While the Indian openers carried on in the same vein on the fourth day morning, the Australians appeared to learn nothing from their lessons on the previous day. It was as if the break in innings had no effect on either team and it was only a matter of time after lunch when India would set the desired target. Sehwag fell short of a century but Gambhir slowed down in order to concentrate on ensuring he did not miss out on a second Test century this time round.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni elevated himself higher up the order to replace Sehwag and the runs kept coming albeit not like when Sehwag was at the crease. It was hard to imagine why Sachin Tendulkar came in only after the third wicket fell. But one wondered what India were trying to do once they surpassed the 500 mark. But the declaration came soon thereafter and Australia were thrust in with than four and a half sessions to go in the Mohali Test and over 500 to get.
It appears that the defensive cloak that Australia are famously attributing to the victory in 2004 was temporarily abandoned. After being a cliché for getting dismissed in the first over of an innings, Matthew Hayden signaled the change of tactics from the very first ball and his attempt to lift the ball only safely landed away from the fielder in the outfield. But the Australians remained undeterred. The stroke play was aggressive; the attempt to outplay the Indian bowlers and not allow them to get on top, obvious.
But Australia perhaps got carried away by their tactics and their aggression blinded them to the fact that there were plenty of sessions to bat in order to win or even draw. Hayden fell to Harbhajan Singh trying to sweep and Simon Katich feel in the same over with Sachin Tendulkar picking up a terrific catch to take India to tea comfortable with two Australian wickets in their pocket from the one Harbhajan over.
The nemesis had struck once more after tea, the prolific run-man Mike Hussey failing to negotiate Harbhajan as well. But there was another superlative piece of bowling that captured the imagination as well. On any other day, Ricky Ponting’s forward defense would have been appreciated. Only on this day, it had come too late and left a fatal gap between bat and pad for an inswinging delivery from his nemesis from the previous tour, Ishant Sharma, for a text book clean bowled dismissal. Ponting could only turn back in shock to find his stumps shattered.
But the shattering effect was not restricted to him alone. In the over before and the immediate session after tea, Australia had lost four wickets for four runs and the explosive batting for forty-nine for no loss turned into a nightmare at fifty-two for four. The Indians were smelling victory when Ishant trapped Shane Watson as well and the danger of ignominy was upon Australia with plenty of time to go before the session came to a close.
India would have loved to make further inroads but they would settle for five frontline Australian batsmen with the prospect of picking up five others, three of them tail enders when day five dawned. Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin negotiated over after over. They failed to dominate the bowlers in the same way that Hayden and Katich attempted. But they managed to survive the heat of the battle and sail through the calm after the storm. It did not mean Australia were not staring defeat in the face. Their presence only meant Australia had survived to live and battle another day, but only just.