Nagpur: Indian bowlers struck three crucial blows in the post-lunch session as the hosts wrested the initiative on the third afternoon of the final Test against Australia here today.
At the tea break, Australia had crawled to 280 for six with Brad Haddin on seven and Cameron White also on seven at the crease, still 161 runs away from India's first innings score of 441 with four wickets in hand, in a Test which the visitors need to win to square the series and retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, with India leading the series 1-0.
Resuming from their lunch time score of 231 for three, Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni continued to employ pace from one side and spin in the form of Harbhajan on the other to a packed off side field. However, Michael Hussey did show some more aggressive intent then from the morning session with his trademark flicks and square drives.
However, Australia suffered a big blow when Michael Clarke after making a slow eight runs in 44 balls was dismissed by a beauty from Ishant Sharma, which squared him up on the off stump to take the edge of the bat through to the keeper Dhoni who made no mistake with the catch. Australia were then 255 for four.
Ten runs later, India managed to get the important breakthrough of Hussey for 90 following a smart piece of fielding by debutant M Vijay at silly point. Hussey forced the ball of the back foot through the off side of Harbhajan and set of for a run.
However, Vijay showing tremendous reflex skills at silly-point stopped the ball and through it to the keeper Dhoni, who whipped off the bails with Hussey unable to regain the crease. Hussey made 90 of 227 balls and was inclusive of eight fours.
Harbhajan then struck a crucuial blow when he got Shane Watson bowled for just two runs to leave Australia precariously placed at 266 for six. Watson played forward to a ball from Harbhajan which hit his bat and rolled back to dislodge the off bail.
Earlier, in the morning India went with an 8-1 field, repeatedly bowled outside the off stump, and delayed the introduction of the spinners. Australia, who had to force the pace, decided this was not the time for innovative strokeplay and as a result only 42 runs came in the session.
Simon Katich batted watchfully for his fifth Test hundred but India's approach paid off when he fell lbw to Zaheer Khan for 102 shortly before lunch. It was an extremely tactical session as the game - on the surface - drifted, but it was interesting viewing as both teams waited for the other to blink first.
Katich cracked his fifth Test century and along with Hussey, who reached his half century put on 155 runs for the third wicket as Australia made slow progress in the morning with India plugging the flow of runs as the bowlers bowled to a plan asking the Australians to set the pace if they wanted to win the Test on a wicket, which was getting slower as the match entered its third day to progressed slowly but surely to for three wickets at lunch on the third day of the fourth Test being played at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) stadium.
Katich was let off by Rahul Dravid who dropped a straight forward catch at first slip of Ishant. He was on 94 in a team total of 193 for two. Hussey then reached his half century after facing 116 balls and had five hits to the fence, with a steer to the third man boundary of Zaheer Khan bringing up the team's 200 also in the process.
Soon the allrounder Katich also reached his century with an identical steer to third man of Zaheer to bring up his fifth Test century. His century came in a stay of 139 balls and was studded with nine hits to the fence.
Indian captain, who opened with pacers Zaheer and Ishant kept them on for a very long period asking the Australians set the pace as the Indian pace duo bowled on or around the off stump to stop the flow of runs and asked the Aussies to take the risks if they wanted to win the Test series.
In the first hour, the visitors made just 25 runs in 12 overs with India who are one up in the series and cannot lose it asked the Aussies to make a match of it if they wanted to level the series.
Katich was once again lucky when Ishant again finding the edge of his bat only to see the ball fall short of V V S Laxman at second slip with the Australian opener on 102 and the team total on 214 for two.
Dhoni introduced spin in the form of Harbhajan in the 18th over of the day and he immediately had the batsmen in trouble with his first ball getting the inside edge of Hussey but falling short of forward short leg.
Zaheer finally got the breakthrough India were looking for when he had Katich trapped in front with a swinging yorker length delivery which thudded into the pads of Katich with the batsmen in front of the wicket. Katich made 102 after facing 189 balls with his innings studded with nine fours.