At end of a hard day's play on Sunday India can look back with some pride over how hard they fought and yet will not feel safe. It is a day like this that underscores the supremacy of Test cricket. India battled hard for the best part of the day, struck some crucial blows and yet one hour of counter attacking cricket from Shane Watson and Brad Haddin left Australia 263 ahead on a pitch that is getting increasingly difficult to bat on. The ball now is well and truly in Ricky Ponting's court and the stage is set for the visitors to bat one hour on the final morning and set India something in excess of 325, giving themselves two-and-a-half sessions to pick up ten wickets.
When the day began India were still some way behind the game. Fortunately for India, Zaheer Khan proved to be difficult to remove, combining watchfulness with grit to eat up valuable time. Anil Kumble kept one end up for close to an hour, and though the runs weren't exactly flowing, India were making it that much harder for Australia to control the game. When Watson trapped Kumble in front, picking up his third wicket of the game, Ishant Sharma then took the baton, occupying the crease purposefully.
From the overnight 313 India pushed on to 360, whittling the lead down to 70 before Michael Clarke sneaked an arm ball through Ishant's defences to end the innings. Zaheer, unbeaten on 57, had done more than what was asked of him, notching up his second Test half-century.
Having used up 85 minutes, India then needed to ensure that the Australian openers were not allowed to score freely. Zaheer led the way with a spell that read 8-4-10-1 in which he picked up Matthew Hayden for the second time in the match, this time lbw to a ball that came in with the arm.
Ponting and Katich then went through a thorough examination with Ishant incessantly asking questions of both batsmen. Katich just retreated into his shell, and was content playing out time, but Ponting let frustration get the better of him. When Ishant speared one into his pads Ponting instinctively looked to hit through midwicket but only found VVS Laxman who pouched a good catch inches from the ground.
Katich grew weary of defending and tried to force the play. Then Harbhajan came into play, extracting just enough extra bounce to have Katich (34) prodding straight to silly mid-off.
India did not have to wait long for another breakthrough as Ishant produced a slower ball that was too well disguised for Michael Clarke. Full and floated outside the off, the ball tempted Clarke into a drive but the batsman could not keep the ball down and Virender Sehwag was in business at cover. Then came the ball that really worried the Australians. Michael Hussey shouldered arms to a Harbhajan top-spinner delivered from round the stumps, only for the ball to hit a crack and come back in to break the stumps. At 128 for 5, with three wickets falling for the addition of only 29 runs, India scented a chance.
Perhaps Watson and Haddin too got the same uneasy feeling for they chose to hit their way out of trouble. Both batsmen looked to play across the line, to the leg side, occasionally taking the aerial route, and it worked for them. The pair added 65 in good time. All of a sudden India wilted in the field and half-chances eluded fielders. When the day ended, with Watson (32) and Haddin (28) still unseparated, India were still battling to reach safety.
7 months ago