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Australia strike after conceding slender lead

Last updated on: November 01, 2008 17:30 IST

- Scorecard | Images

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. An oft-repeated adage, but one that can always be justified.

On Saturday, it was Australia's turn to justify it as the tourists did precisely that much to the hosts' displeasure.

Batting for more than two sessions, Australia, powered by a workman-like 112 from Michael Clarke, ensured that India's first innings lead was reduced to a paltry 36. Then, to add salt to the wounds, they snapped up a couple of Indian wickets before close of play, including the vital one of Virender Sehwag (16).

The hosts were 43 for 2 at close on Day 4 of the third Test, having completely given up hopes of clinching the series. Gautam Gambhir (21) and Rahul Dravid (5) were unbeaten at the crease.

The visitors, after being on the back foot for the opening two days, called the shots in the subsequent two to gain a huge psychological victory.

Morning session: (Runs: 98, Overs: 31, Wickets: 2)

Resuming at their overnight score of 338 for 4, the Australian batsmen divided the responsibility; while Shane Watson went into attacking mode, Michael Clarke played the sheet anchor. And the visitors scored freely.

It wasn't as if they were circumspect all through. In fact, there were moments where they did live dangerously. In the day's fourth over, Clarke was dropped by Ishant Sharma off Amit Mishra before even he added to his overnight score (21). The 20-year-old goofed up a simple chance at mid-off and Clarke lived to see another day and make the most of the opportunity handed over to him.

Watson's aggression was cut short when Virender Sehwag was re-introduced. The part-timer, who had scalped three the day before, got one to turn viciously and clip a perplexed Watson's leg stump. Australia 399 for 4.

Watson made 36, inclusive of eight boundaries, seven off them coming on Saturday morning itself. More importantly, he put on a 73-run stand for the fourth wicket with Clarke and brought them close to stave off the follow-on.

Clarke drove Anil Kumble to the mid-on boundary to bring up his half century, his sixth against India, and 10th overall. That particular scoring shot also helped Australia surpass the 400-run mark. They soon surpassed the 413-run mark needed to avoid the follow-on.

Brad Haddin (17) went cheaply, stumped by Mahendra Singh Dhoni off Kumble but Cameron White (4) survived the remaining overs.

Post-lunch session (Runs: 103, Overs: 29, Wickets: 1)

This period also witnessed the Indian fielders in prime form and the Australian batsmen had many opportunities to convert singles into doubles. They duly obliged.

However, the Indians were in a generous mood. Not content with just giving away a few runs, they also helped the visitors by dropping easy catches.

The most crucial one in the second session of play was when VVS Laxman spilled an easy chance offered by Clarke at mid-on off Virender Sehwag. Clarke, on 90 then, had played a tired shot and the relief on his face was to be seen to be believed.

But all credit to Laxman. He was celebrating his 34th birthday and seemed to be in a mood to give Clarke a return gift.

This was Clarke's second life -- after the Ishant Sharma faux pas in the morning session. And just four runs later, he got a third, again off Sehwag. On this occasion it was Amit Mishra at deep square leg who offered the batsman, in the 'nervous 90s', some succour. But spare a thought for Sehwag. Twice in two overs he had been denied a chance to take a fifth wicket. 

However, he decided not to depend on a fielder again and, instead, decided to take matters into his own hands. And the result was one to savour. He cleaned up White (44) -- for his maiden five-wicket haul in Tests. Australia 532 for 7.

White, who had failed with the ball, had done his job with the bat. His knock included five boundaries and a towering six of Anil Kumble. More importantly, he had helped Clarke put on a valuable 106 runs for the seventh wicket.

Clarke soon brought about his hundred, in the last ball before tea, with a couple of Sehwag. It was a risky innings, he offered at least three clear chances, but at the same time a resolute one. This was Clarke's eighth Test hundred, his third against India.

Post-tea session: (Runs: 81, Overs: 27.3, Wickets: 5)

After testing the patience of the Indian bowlers in the opening two sessions, the Australians did reward them for the persistence -- the last three wickets falling for an addition of just 38 runs.

Resuming at 539 for 7, Australia first lost Brett Lee (8), leg before to Anil Kumble. Replays showed the ball would have missed the stumps but what mattered eventually was that India had got the breakthrough. Australia 555 for 8.

Michael Clarke's (112) luck ran out finally when he was caught by Zaheer Khan at extra cover. That was the first catch the Indian fielders had held on to in this innings -- dropped opportunities came aplenty.

Clarke hit six boundaries and a six in what was his eighth Test hundred, third against India. Australia 567 for 8.

Mitchell Johnson (15) did heave a couple of balls to the boundary but Kumble eventually got the measure of him, taking a return catch off a slog sweep that got the top edge. The happiness on the Indian captain's face was apparent. His team finally ended the Aussie resistance.

India had 13 overs to play for in the day and the openers made their agenda clear early on. Sehwag and Gambhir scored at almost four-five runs per over before Lee got the measure of the former for the second time in the match -- cleaning up his stumps with a fuller length delivery. India 29 for 1.

Sending Ishant Sharma as a night-watchman turned out to be a wrong move. The batsman became a soft dismissal, spooning a shot ball from Stuart Clark straight into Ricky Ponting's palms.

In came Dravid and he ensured India did not lose any more wickets in the day while extending their overall lead to 79.

With only a days' play left, there is only one possible result. No need to mention what it is.

Our Correspondent