| Michael Clarke on way to his century on the fourth day of the third Test against India at the Kotla on Saturday. (Reuters) Kirsten, Clarke quotes, stats: Page 18 |
New Delhi: Michael Clarke played a catch-me-if-you-can innings to steer Australia out of the woods in the third Test at the Kotla on Saturday. It was just the kind of effort that Ricky Pontings team needed to stay alive in the match and the series.
The story of this Test match, however, could have been different had Ishant Sharma held on to a simple catch offered by Clarke, when he was on his overnight score of 21.
Fielding at mid-off, Ishant, the youngest member of the Indian team, dropped the Aussie batsman off Amit Mishra. Clarke went on to score 112 in his 361-minute stay at the wicket and guided Australia to a score of 577 in their first innings.
Australia, who thrived on Indias sloppy fielding, batted till 55 minutes before the end of days play and virtually brought the curtains down on any possibility of India taking a 2-0 lead in the series.
The visitors returned to dent the Indian batting and reduced the home team to 43 for two in 13 overs. While Virender Sehwag failed again with the bat, nightwatchman Ishant lasted only two deliveries and was caught at short cover by Ponting off Stuart Clark. Sehwag was bowled by Brett Lee for 16.
At stumps, Gautam Gambhir (21) and Rahul Dravid (5) were at the crease. India now lead by 79 runs with eight wickets in hand.
If Clarke — dropped thrice on his way to the eighth Test century — and Cameron White (44) were Australias heroes for staging a brave comeback, the Indian fielders generously contributed to the visitors cause. They grassed simple catches all through the day to take the Australians into the zone of safety.
Ishants mistake proved costly for the Indians. The fast bowler from Delhi, however, was not the only culprit. V.V.S. Laxman and Amit Mishra dropped Clarke twice in his 90s at mid-on and deep square leg respectively. Sehwag was the unfortunate bowler on both occasions.
It was a very frustrating day for the home team, who were eyeing their eighth straight victory at the Kotla. The wickets came few and far between. Zaheer Khan, who had cast a spell on the Australians in the previous two Tests, was off colour and so was his pace partner Ishant.
Among the spinners, Sehwag continued to pick up wickets and fulfilled his dream of capturing five wickets in an innings. Injured skipper Anil Kumble returned from the hospital to pick up wickets for the first time in the series but that was not enough to thwart the Aussie batsmen.
Much was expected from Amit Mishra, but he was largely ineffective on the fourth day though he scalped a couple of wickets. Harbhajan Singh was indeed sorely missed in the match.
Clarke finally completed his century at the stroke of tea when he took two runs off Sehwag. He may have offered too many chances but in the end, it was his knock that stitched the Australian innings together and took the match away from the Indians. He hit six boundaries and one six off Mishra and added 106 runs with Cameron White for the seventh wicket.
The Australian batsmen decided to attack from the start of the days play. The two overnight batsmen — Clarke and Shane Watson (36) put the Indian bowling to the sword and scored 57 runs in the first hour of play. Watson hit eight fours before Sehwag removed his leg stump with one that turned big.
Not all the runs came from elegant stroke making for the Aussies. But nonetheless, it was very effective. Among the top six Australian batsmen, only Watson failed to score a half-century.