S. Dinakar

Clarke and Haddin in a spirited unbeaten sixth-wicket partnership

Mohali: The dry wicket has held firm but the Australians are crumbling. The World champion stares at defeat in the second Test.

Undone by Gautam Gambhir’s hundred and the pace-spin strikes by Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan Singh, Australia was struggling at 141 for five at stumps on Monday; the side is chasing a never-before-achieved 516 in a minimum of 136 overs.

Earlier, India declared its second innings at 314 for three, 65 minutes after lunch on Monday. Then, Harbhajan and Ishant made deep inroads even as Tendulkar rolled back the years once again; this time with a spectacular catch at short point.

On life-support

Australia was on life-support on 58 for five when Michael Clarke (42 batting, 95b, 6x4) and Brad Haddin (37 batting, 102b, 6x4) joined hands in a spirited, unbeaten sixth-wicket association.

Clarke used his feet, drove and lofted the spinners; he was fortunate that a couple of leg-spinners from Amit Mishra hissed past the outside edge. The compact Haddin was circumspect.

On a surface of this nature, Ishant’s bowling was clearly the highlight. He has, by a long way, out-bowled his Aussie counterparts. He has also made the ball dart back a long way.

The lanky paceman’s high-arm action, wrist position and release are exemplary as he consistently hits the seam. He also pierces through defences.

Superb delivery

Ricky Ponting expected the incoming delivery from Ishant and rightly stretched forward. The ferocity with which the ball jagged back was not quite anticipated by Ponting. Even great batsmen can leave a gap between bat and pad and can turn bunnies.

Ishant’s flowing mane and rhythmic run-up made compelling viewing. It was, however, not such a pretty sight for the batsmen.

Shane Watson’s tenure was cut short by another stinging off-cutter from Ishant. For someone who essentially bowls off-cutters and the straighter ones, Ishant does not deliver from wide off the stumps. It’s not very easy for the batsmen to pick his movement.

On this pitch, Ishant made Brad Haddin smell leather with a sizzling short-pitched delivery. The wiry lad has a strong shoulder.

It began differently for the Aussies with Matthew Hayden blitzing to 29 off just 20 balls with strong drives and flicks. Things happened when Harbhajan was introduced.

Harbhajan has lately and rightly relied more on off-spin against the right-handers. He has also, rightly, delivered from round the wicket to the southpaws.

Fatal sweep

He flighted one around Hayden’s off-stump from round the wicket and the Aussie, fatally, missed a sweep to a delivery drifting in. Hayden’s strength — the sweep — cost his wicket this time around.

India struck again before tea. The left-handed Simon Katich was lured into a stroke by Harbhajan’s flighted delivery outside off and Tendulkar flung himself to his right to pluck a sensational catch off the leading edge.

The normally composed Michael Hussey succumbed to pressure, unwisely attempting a pull off a Harbhajan delivery — again bowled from round the wicket to the left-hander — that skidded through after pitching. The ball was too full for the stroke as well.

Supple wrists

In the morning, Gambhir and Sehwag waltzed. The left-handed Gambhir’s supple wrists were on view as he whipped and flicked the pacemen — this also indicated that the Aussies were not quite bowling the right line.

A right-left opening combination has its advantages particularly if both the batsmen are attacking in nature. Sehwag collected his runs with drives on the off-side and a few fierce hits through mid-wicket.

Gambhir (104, 138b, 7x4, 1x6) and Sehwag (90, 122b, 8x4) batted intelligently, picking as many runs with pushes and placements as with the bigger hits to counter a defensive field. The chemistry between the two was reflected in the running between the wickets.

Second Test century

Gambhir — fortunate to be reprieved at slip by Hayden off leggie Cameron White — completed his second Test hundred even as Sehwag missed the three-figure mark. Apart from the odd aberration, Gambhir used his feet and the pace on the ball. Dhoni (68 not out, 84b, 3x4, 1x6), promoting himself to the No. 3 slot, ran hard and employed his powerful wrists for the whipped off-drives and the trademark flicks. Although India lost wickets in pursuit of quick runs, the Aussie bowling continued to disappoint.

Lee, who missed action earlier in the day tending to injured fingers, was flat and unimpressive when he returned. The spearhead’s display told a larger Australian tale in the Test.

SCOREBOARD

 India — 1st innings: 469.

Australia — 1st innings: 268.

India — 2nd innings: G. Gambhir c Hussey b White 104, V. Sehwag c Haddin b Siddle 90, M. Dhoni (not out) 68, S. Ganguly c Clarke b Lee 27, S. Tendulkar (not out) 10; Extras (b-3, lb-4, nb-3, w-5): 15; Total (for three wkts. decl., in 65 overs): 314.

Fall of wickets: 1-182 (Sehwag), 2-224 (Gambhir), 3-290 (Ganguly).

Australia bowling: Lee 14-0-61-1, Siddle 15-1-62-1, Johnson 14-0-72-0, White 8-0-48-1, Watson 5-0-20-0, Hussey 8-0-38-0, Clarke 1-0-6-0.

Australia — 2nd innings: M. Hayden lbw b Harbhajan 29, S. Katich c Tendulkar b Harbhajan 20, R. Ponting b Ishant 2, M. Hussey lbw b Harbhajan 1, M. Clarke (batting) 42, S. Watson lbw b Ishant 2, B. Haddin (batting) 37; Extras (b-4, nb-4): 8; Total (for five wkts. in 46 overs): 141.

Fall of wickets: 1-49 (Hayden), 2-50 (Katich), 3-52 (Hussey), 4-52 (Ponting), 5-58 (Watson).

India bowling: Zaheer 8-1-44-0, Ishant 9-4-29-2, Harbhajan 15-2-23-3, Mishra 9-1-34-0, Sehwag 5-2-7-0.

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