SPORT

Harbhajan Singh breathes defiance

ON A HIGH: Mitchell Johnson, who came up with a fine bowling display, exults after dismissing V.V.S. Laxman on Saturday.

ON A HIGH: Mitchell Johnson, who came up with a fine bowling display, exults after dismissing V.V.S. Laxman on Saturday.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

S. Dinakar

India still 117 runs behind; Mitchell Johnson displays his wares

Bangalore: Mitchell Johnson demanded attention on a Saturday of fortune swings. The Aussie scalped four, bowled with intensity, heart and skill at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.

The Indians seemed down for the count when Harbhajan Singh — he keeps bobbing up against the Aussies — breathed defiance down the order with Zaheer Khan.

India ended the third day of the first Test at 313 for eight, recovering from 232 for seven. The host, still 117 runs behind the Aussies, might have to cope with an awkward final day on a pitch of inconsistent bounce if the weather holds.

Determined efforts

There were also determined batting efforts from Rahul Dravid (51) and Sourav Ganguly (47). Both batsmen fell to debatable leg-before decisions. The height was the question in Dravid’s case while Ganguly appeared to be struck a shade outside the line.

In the evening, Harbhajan’s batting was high on entertainment and courage. There was a fair amount of application as well. When Brett Lee unleashed short-pitched deliveries with the second new ball, Harbhajan pulled and hooked. He reached a well-deserved half century (54, 110b, 5x4) with an on-the-walk thump to the long-on boundary off Stuart Clark.

Timely strike

The Aussies seemed to be losing focus when Shane Watson employed his shoulder to gain additional bounce from the surface to end the feisty Harbhajan’s tenure. Harbhajan’s 80-run partnership with a battling Zaheer Khan (35 batting) represented an Indian fightback. Zaheer was involved in a verbal exchange with ’keeper Brad Haddin.

The weakness of the Australian spin attack was obvious. Cameron White’s bowling lacked variety — there was little evidence of the wrong ’un or the top-spinner — he could not get enough revolution on his leg-spinners. It was the occasional left-arm spin of Michael Clarke that fetched Australia a wicket with M.S. Dhoni playing inside the line of a delivery than drifted in a shade and then spun away.

The pacemen, rather Johnson, inflicted most of the damage. Johnson bowled seam-up to hit the seam and, crucially, employed the cross-seam effectively. When a paceman bowls cross-seam, the ball tends to skid off the surface.

He also bowled the right length on this pitch with subtle adjustments depending on the height of the batsman and his stance. Johnson pitched about five yards from the batsman, having him in two minds whether to play forward or back. After setting him up, he used the fuller ball as a wicket-taking weapon.

Virender Sehwag was sucked into a fatal drive to a full length delivery well outside the off-stump from round-the-wicket. V.V.S. Laxman was prised out by a fuller length ball that deviated away.

Johnson also delivered the slower ball cleverly with a short-cover in position. Sachin Tendulkar, who went past Sunil Gavaskar’s mark of 5067 runs for most Test runs at home, was lured into a mistake.

From over-the-wicket, Johnson brought the left-armer’s variations into play with ideal seam and wrist position. From round-the-wicket, he moved the ball away from the right-hander — a delivery high on skill — and also brought the sphere in.

Dravid’s counter

Rahul Dravid countered Johnson effectively, rightly playing forward for most part. When the ball was pitched short he rose on his toes, his hands high enough to keep the ball down.

Ponting had three men — at short mid-wicket, short cover and a very straight short mid-on — for the miscued drive but Dravid (51, 104b, 7x4) collected his runs with checked pushes, elegant flicks, and a few firm drives not struck on the up.

Ganguly’s (47, 115b, 3x4) stance was balanced and head still. He displayed, but for an odd aberration, sound judgment outside the off-stump against the pacemen. His was not a flamboyant innings but a determined one.

Lee bowled a sharp spell in the morning — he sent back Gautam Gambhir with a delivery that swung back into the left-hander — and achieved outswing under a cloud cover. Clark continued to struggle with his length; his lack of pace did not help either.

Watson hustled the batsmen with his thrust, could have been handed the second new ball.

SCOREBOARD

 Australia — 1st innings: 430.

India — 1st innings: G. Gambhir lbw b Lee 21, V. Sehwag c Hayden b Johnson 45, R. Dravid lbw b Watson 51, S. Tendulkar c White b Johnson 13, V.V.S. Laxman c Haddin b Johnson 0, S. Ganguly lbw b Johnson 47, M.S. Dhoni b Clarke 9, H. Singh c Haddin b Watson 54, Zaheer (batting) 35, A. Kumble (batting) 0; Extras (b-24, lb-9, nb-5): 38. Total (for 8 wkts. in 101 overs): 313.

Fall of wickets: 1-70 (Gambhir), 2-76 (Sehwag), 3-94 (Tendulkar), 4-106 (Laxman), 5-155 (Dravid), 6-195 (Dhoni), 7-232 (Ganguly), 8-312 (Harbhajan).

Australia bowling: Lee 21-5-49-1; Clark 17-3-58-0; Johnson 20-4-62-4; Watson 15-3-37-2; White 13-2-39-0; Clarke 15-2-35-1.

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