If Mohali was a humdinger, Bangalore is proving no less, what with the vagaries of the pitch in full force now. Tuesday’s fourth day began on a bright note for India – Sachin Tendulkar (214, 547m, 363b, 21x4, 2x6) completing his sixth double ton – and the day ended even more brightly as the hosts gave themselves a fine chance to win the match and register their first whitewash of the Australians.
At stumps on the penultimate day, Australia were 202 for seven, a lead of 185 runs with Wednesday’s full day’s play to go. With still three wickets in hand, Australia will look to extend the lead and any total in excess of 200 on a last-day pitch will be tricky to chase. Further, India don’t have crisis man VVS Laxman around this time.
After promising a huge-first innings lead, India flattered to deceive by folding up for 495, eking out a mere 17-run lead. But the hosts struck back, first through their spinners and later through the pacemen under fading light to have their rivals on the mat at the Chinnaswamy stadium.
After bundling out India moments before lunch, Australia began their second essay on a positive note, Shane Watson and Simon Katich quickly realising 58 runs when Pragyan Ojha’s strike in the 17th over gave India an opening. The left-arm spinner trapped Watson (32) with one that straightened after pitching, while Katich edged Harbhajan Singh to Mahendra Singh Dhoni at the same score. A lax Michael Clarke forgot to drag his right foot back into the crease after he was beaten by Ojha’s turn for Dhoni to complete a smart stumping.
Anil Kumble is no longer in the side and Harbhajan isn’t the same force, but the Aussies resembled a cat on a hot tin roof on a breaking pitch. The ball was turning and jumping, and the batsmen were groping as Harbhajan and Ojha, who bowled 39 overs in tandem, winkled out five visiting batsmen.
Brief resistance ensued in the form of skipper Ricky Ponting (72, 117b, 7x4, 1x6), who survived a close call for lbw off Harbhajan on 21, and Michael Hussey before Ojha won a marginal decision against the latter to break the 61-run association. Harbhajan then castled Marcus North with a drifter before Zaheer Khan and S Sreesanth came back to dismiss the well-set pair of Ponting and Tim Paine respectively. Nathan Hauritz and Mitchell Johnson hung on, but how long is the question?
In the morning, India, as they had contrived to collapse after raising hopes of a big score in the first Test, once again managed to concede the ground to Australia from a seemingly commanding position. Tendulkar didn’t take much time to get to his 200th run -- scampering for a single after tapping Ben Hilfenhaus towards point to send a goodly weekday crowd into ruptures -- and with Dhoni showing his intent for quick runs, India appeared set for a handsome lead. The fall of Tendulkar, however, set the rot in, the hosts losing their last five wickets for just nine runs.
A tired Tendulkar perished chopping Peter George’s incoming delivery on to the stumps, thus handing his prized scalp to a debutant for the 10th time in his 171-Test career. After the master’s exit, which deservedly attracted another standing ovation from an appreciative crowd, Australia took no more than 7.3 more overs to wipe off the tail.
George collected his second victim, accounting for Zaheer after Watson had seen the back of Harbhajan, while a harassed Hauritz finally had something to show in the wickets column. The off-spinner claimed Dhoni and Sreesanth in the space of four balls to signal the end of India’s first-innings, the quick end putting Tendulkar’s innings in the right perspective.