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India in control after big first innings lead

Last updated on: November 09, 2008 11:18 IST

- Scorecard | Images

India closed in on their objective of winning their first Test series against Australia in seven years with a disciplined bowling performance on Day 3 of the fourth and final Test in Nagpur on Saturday.

The visitors appeared to have no answers to the Indian bowlers' tight line and length strategy as they were dismissed for 355 in their first innings, thereby conceding a lead of 86 runs.

India were yet to open their account in their second essay after facing just one over, the last of the day's proceedings.

Simon Katich scored 102 and Mike Hussey 90, but the Aussies scored at a painstaking rate throughout the day and missed out on whatever chances they may have entertained of winning the match and leveling the series. They lost their last eight wickets for the addition of just 166 runs in 85 overs to hand India the initiative.

Harbhajan Singh was the pick of the bowlers, claiming 3 for 94, while Amit Mishra took 2 for 58. Pacers Ishant Sharma (2 for 64) and Zaheer Khan (1 for 68) also made vital contributions and troubled the batsmen with reverse swing.

India, leading the four-match series 1-0, are well on course to winning their first series against Australia since 2001.

Morning session: (42 runs, 1 wicket, 24 overs)

Katich, on 94, got a lifeline in the second over of the day when he was dropped at first slip by Rahul Dravid. The left-hander slashed at a wide, outgoing delivery from Ishant Sharma, but edged it. However, Dravid, who is clearly going through the worst phase of his cricketing career, put the offering down.

Michael Hussey brought up his half-century with another edge through the slip region, but this time it fell short and between the first and second slip.

Fresh from the reprieve, Katich brought up his century with a boundary through the third-man region. His fifth Test century took him 139 deliveries and included nine boundaries. This century will be particularly pleasing considering the fact that he was dismissed for 99 at the old VCA stadium in 2004.

Both pacers, Ishant and Zaheer, bowled an extended spell of nine overs each as India tried to keep things tight with a packed off-side field. The good thing for India was that only 31 runs were scored off these 18 overs as Australia reached 220 for 2 before Harbhajan Singh was introduced.

It was Zaheer, who provided the first breakthrough on the third day, when he trapped Katich leg before wicket for 102 (189 balls, 9 boundaries). Zaheer, bowling his 11th straight over since morning except for a change of ends, beat the centurion with a fast reverse swinging yorker to end his three-hour long vigil. However, Katich had given Australia some hope with his 155-run partnership for the third wicket with Hussey.

There was no further drama as Australia reached 231 for 3 in 73 overs at lunch. Hussey was unbeaten on 64, which included seven boundaries, off 177 balls, while Michael Clarke was not out on 1.

India were unlucky in not claiming another wicket or two. It was a rather painstaking effort by the Aussie batsmen as they could just manage 42 runs in the 24 overs bowled in the morning session. The visitors' tactics were surprising considering they trail 0-1 in the series and need to make things happen else India will be content to play out a draw.

With the ball reverse swinging, the pacers did most of the work, but post-lunch we should see the spinners take over the workload to try and exploit the vast expanses of rough patches on the pitch.

Post-Lunch session (29 overs, 49 runs, 3 wickets)

India continued with defensive tactics after the lunch break, with the pacers opting for a eight-man field on the off-side and a solitary man on the leg-side.

Ishant Sharma struck a big blow after lunch when he had Michael Clarke caught behind for 8. The reverse swing worked again; this time the ball shaped away from the batsman and took the nick to leave Australia in a spot of bother at 255 for 4.

Debutant Murali Vijay's lighting reflexes and quick thinking provided India the vital wicket of Hussey, for 90. Vijay had earlier claimed the wicket of opener Matthew Hayden on Day 2 when he ran him out with a direct hit.

Shane Watson did not last long, bowled by Harbhajan for 2. The Aussie all-rounder played a defensive shot but the ball hit his arm and rolled back on to the stumps. Australia were reduced to 266 for 6.

With the pacers getting huge amount of reverse swing, leg-spinner Amit Mishra was introduced only in the 48th over of the day, after Australia had scored 269 for 6 in 96 overs.

With spinners get good turn and bounce on the odd occasion things were getting difficult for the batters. The second session turned out to be yet another boring affair as only 49 runs were scored in 29 overs for the loss of three wickets.

At tea on day three, Australia were 280 for 6 in 102 overs, still trailing India's first inning score by 161 runs.

Brad Haddin and Cameron White were both unbeaten on 7, hoping to last as long as possible, with the objective of run-scoring out of their agenda.

The Indian bowlers managed to trigger a mini collapse post-lunch as the visitors lost three wickets for the addition of 37 runs in 20 overs. India are sitting pretty at the moment and it remains to be seen whether they go in for the kill or let the game drift in the final session.

As is evident, they have preferred to keep it simple and not take any unwanted risks in the hope of preserving their 1-0 lead and clinching the series.

Post-Tea session:

Cameron White finally showed some intent when he lofted part-timer Virender Sehwag over mid-on for a boundary. In the next over, Brad Haddin smashed consecutive boundaries off Mishra as India again spread the field anticipating Australia to wake up from a deep slumber. The Aussies tried to step up the scoring rate, but in vain, as India made them earn each and every run.

Mishra struck in the 116th over when he got one to spin and bounce from round the wicket. The ball took Haddin's edge straight to Dravid at first slip. The Aussie wicketkeeper made 28, adding 52 runs for the seventh wicket with White, and like all his team mates struggled to get going.

India took the new ball in the 125th over and Ishant struck after two overs. He trapped Jason Krejza leg before wicket for 5 with a fast, incoming delivery to reduce Australia to 333 for 8.

Two balls later Mitchell Johnson was lucky to survive as VVS Laxman spilled an easy catch at second slip.

White showed great patience until he decided to loft Harbhajan on the leg side and ended up giving a simple catch on the midwicket boundary. The Aussie all-rounder, who has struggled with the ball in the series, scored a handy 46, inclusive of four boundaries, in 133 deliveries.

Brett Lee walked in at number 11, lower than his usual batting position, after being unwell for a major part of this Test. Australia's media manager confirmed that he suffered from de-hydration and nausea and had to be placed on an IV drip and hence walked in late to bat.

Australia's innings ended when Johnson holed Mishra straight to the long-on fielder for 5. Australia were bowled out for 355 in 134.4 overs, giving India a vital 86-run first innings lead.

Harbhajan finished with impressive figures of 3 for 94 in 37 overs, while Mishra took 2 for 58 in 23.4 overs. The pace duo of Zaheer and Ishant also deserve special mention for their tireless efforts during the day, as they claimed 1 for 68 and 2 for 64 respectively.

It remains to be seen whether India will go in a positive approach with the bat and look to win the match. They are in the driver's seat at the moment and will no doubt look to carry on the momentum.

Our Correspondent