Australia fail to drive home the advantage

Ponting, Watson hit half-centuries but India strike to restrict visitors to 285/5

Australia fail to drive home the advantage

On a balmy day with the rains mercifully staying away, Australia had posted 285 for five in 85.5 overs after opting to bat when bad light forced the umpires to call off play. A score in the vicinity of 300 isn’t a bad effort at all, but the visitors would have been far happier to have an imperious Ricky Ponting (77, 147b, 12x4) still at the crease on a day when each of their batsmen was welcomed with jeers and boos, and without any justification, by the near capacity crowd.

Seeking to improve his batting record on Indian soil, Ponting nicely settled into his groove after some initial nerves. Barring an edged four to third-man off Zaheer Khan, none of his shots was essayed in doubt. He looked in supreme control of his innings and never allowed any bowler to get on top him with sustained attack. He did slow down a bit in the aftermath of Michael Hussey’s dismissal, but by and large, he was untroubled.
The right-hander repeatedly pulled Harbhajan Singh and employed the drive to perfection against Pragyan Ojha. Ponting’s only century in India came at this very venue two years ago and the 35-year-old looked set for another three-figure mark when Raina came to spoil his party.

With the regular bowlers making little impact on Marcus North and Ponting, Mahendra Singh Dhoni turned to Raina and what a master-stroke it turned out to be! Ponting shuffled and tried to work the ball off his pads, only to miss the line and miss out on a ton. India, who went in with debutant Cheteshwar Pujara with VVS Laxman ruled not fit, might have visualised an opening here, but North (43 batting), under pressure to retain his place, battled along in the company of Tim Paine to stave off further damage.  
Unlike in the Mohali Test when the Australian batsmen showed an uncharacteristic defensive approach, openers Shane Watson (57, 88b, 9x4) and Simon Katich (43, 95b, 7x4) took turns to punish the home attack and notch up runs at a rapid pace in the morning. Watson was the main aggressor in the first half of the opening session during which Australia brought up 50 runs.


He then took the foot off the pedal and Katich stepped up. The right-left combination dealt in boundaries – 16 fours came between them in a partnership of 99 -- and only the introduction of the spinners put a brake on the scoring rate.

It was a fascinating contest between bat and ball. There was swing for the pacemen under overcast conditions and turn for the slower bowlers. Zaheer got the ball to seam around while S Sreesanth, playing his first Test in nearly eight months, appeared good without being exceptional. He cranked up good pace and got the ball to dart around to have the batsmen thinking. However, both Watson and Katich showed positive intent and great purpose to conquer the first session.  

India struck in the immediacy of the lunch interval, Harbhajan sending Katich back with an off-break. Ojha ended Watson’s stay by getting one to nick the shoulder of the bat for Dhoni to complete a beautiful catch.

Michael Clarke looked good as long as he lasted before a Harbhajan off-break did him in. Wicketless and expensive in his first two spells, Zaheer sent a well-set Hussey back when the left-hander wafted at widish delivery, only to see Virender Sehwag hold on to a blinder as the hosts, starting on the back foot, ended the day on a more positive note.

SCORE BOARD
AUSTRALIA (I Innings)
Watson c Dhjoni b Ojha    57
(149m, 88b, 9x4)
Katich c Dravid b Harbhajan    43
(124m, 95b, 7x4)
Ponting lbw Raina    77
(204m, 147b, 12x4)
Clarke c Raina b Harbhajan    14
(26m, 26b, 1x4)
Hussey c Sehwag b Zaheer    34
(71m, 45b, 4x4)
North (batting)    43
(117m, 89b, 4x4)
Paine (batting)    8
(36m, 29b, 1x4)
Extras (LB-5, NB-4)    9
Total (for 5 wkts, 85.5 overs)    285
Fall of wickets: 1-99 (Katich), 2-113 (Watson), 3-132 (Clarke), 4-198 (Hussey), 5-256 (Ponting). 
Bowling: Zaheer 13-5-61-1, Sreesanth 12-1-37-0 (nb-1), Ojha 25-5-63-1 (nb-2), Harbhajan Singh 26-0-100-2, Sehwag 4-1-7-0 (nb-1), Raina 5-1-12-1.

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