Chennai: Virender Sehwag's majestic straight drive off Glenn McGrath rounded off the 12-minute batting session for India on Sunday. As McGrath wilted, the batsman walked away with the confidence and swagger of a man in form. If that is to be a positive sign, India can hope to dictate terms on the final day after being made to toil for some dropped chances and one Mr Damien Martyn.
The Australian's 104 off 210 balls (11x4, 1x6), in his 280 minutes stay at the crease had helped the visitors dictate terms until Harbhajan Singh provided the vital breakthroughs in one over and Anil Kumble ran through the late middle-order.
Going by the confidence among the Indian players, the 229-run target seems achievable. Even former India opener Arun Lal sounded confident. 'I don't know any Indian wicket where it becomes treacherous on the fifth day at this time of the year.' The Indians need another 210 on the final day to level the TVS series.
Kumble, though, made full use of the surface, which is tending to get slower as the match progresses. So much so that catches are not getting carried to the slip cordon.
Underlining his effectiveness in these conditions, Kumble finished with six for 133 (match figures of 13 for 181). The presence of Harbhajan Singh (three for 108) made his task easier at the other end. As Harbhajan piled pressure on one end, Kumble took the opportunity to play on the batsman's mind.
But Martyn's solid and measured approach had almost put it beyond the Indians at one stage. On their last tour to India, Martyn wasn't even in the team. His Test career graph has risen since 2000 when he replaced an injured Ricky Ponting.
Relegated to the reserve bench, he watched Steve Waugh's men fail to conquer the Final Frontier. Martyn replaced Justin Langer in the subsequent Ashes series and has been a valued contributor first at No. 6, and then filled in the No. 4 slot after Mark Waugh's retirement.
His 110 in the second innings against Sri Lanka helped the Australians to their first win in their 3-0 sweep last March. He followed it up with 161, ending the series with 333 at an average of 55. More importantly, the visitors during their last tour of the sub-continent had scores of 512, 442 and 375 in the second essay, after falling cheaply in the first.
When John Buchanan spoke of a 250-300 run lead at the press conference on Saturday, many eyebrows were raised.
The talks then revolved around how early the Australian innings would end, and whether the Indians could wrap up the match with a day to spare. The Australian coach, obviously, had complete faith in his batsmen, given their past performance, and stressed on the need for at least two partnerships going.
The turnaround came from the most unexpected quarter ' nightwatchman Jason Gillespie. The 139-run partnership for the fifth wicket with Martyn not only gave them hope, it also lowered the burden on the late-order.
Gillespie's 26 in 242 minutes and 164 balls can never be measured in numbers, its quality and importance will be crafted in the history books if Australia finally manage to return home undefeated.
His application and commitment to stay at the crease must have put to the shade many a big innings. Nothing shook his resolve or deflected his concentration on Sunday. Even the new ball, taken after 87 overs, failed to unnerve him. Apart from a few half-chances, the only time he survived was when Harbhajan Singh dropped a caught and bowled chance after lunch.
Martyn's approach, at the other end, the purity in his technique and the calm assurance in his temperament must have rubbed on Gillespie. Martyn's first hundred against India (eighth overall) was timed with consummate nerve in a typical demonstration of his enduring style and indomitable skill. Such was his confidence that he completed his century with a six off Kumble.
The pair was finally separated 13 minutes before tea when Harbhajan sent them back in a space of two balls. Martyn was the first to go, Dravid taking both catches at first slip.
'Martyn showed patience during his stay. He did not take risks and waited for the loose balls. That's the key,' Kumble said.
Michael Clarke (39 not out) and Darren Lehmann (41) added 62 for the seventh wicket, but once Lehmann was foxed by a Kumble googly, Clarke ran out of partners.
Parthiv's wicketkeeping once again came under the scanner. Apart from a couple of stumpings and a few dropped chances, he gave away 19 byes during the second innings. The manner in which he missed Michael Clarke's stumping off Kumble left the bowler visibly disappointed. His performance is sure to come up for discussion when the selectors meet to decide the squad for the rest of the series on Monday.
Kumble, however, was very supportive of the youngster. 'A lot has been said about Parthiv's keeping. But it's not easy when the ball is coming off the rough. It might appear on TV that he missed an easy one, but it isn't so. I hope he will learn from this experience and get better."