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Batting collapses leave India-Australia Test evenly poised

Last updated on: December 28, 2011 13:19 IST

On a day of wildly fluctuating fortunes, India suffered a stunning batting collapse, but their bowlers fought back brilliantly to leave the first Test against Australia tantalisingly poised, in Melbourne, on Wednesday.

Replying to Australia's 333, the visitors lost eight wickets for 68 runs and were bundled out for 282 in their first innings before the bowlers, led by young Umesh Yadav, brought them back in the match.

- Scorecard | Images

Australia were 179 for 8 in their second knock, 230 runs ahead, on a day when 15 wickets fell on what appears a difficult, yet not impossible, Melbourne Cricket Ground pitch.

Importantly for the hosts, under-fire veteran Michael Hussey (79) was still holding his ground though fortuitously, after Rahul Dravid at first slip dropped a sitter off him when the left-hander was on 69.

Hussey, the highest scorer in the match so far, has now batted for 197 minutes and 134 balls, hitting seven fours during the course of his fighting knock that has kept Australia in the hunt after yet another top-order batting collapse.

Ben HilfenhausWith two full days left in the game, India will look to restrict Australia's lead to under-250 and push for victory though the hosts will also fancy their chances.

Umesh was the pick of the Indian bowlers, with figures of 4 for 49, but no less significant was Zaheer Khan's twin strikes in successive overs in the final session and the good support Ishant Sharma and off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin provided.

The hosts were precariously placed at 27 for four at one stage before former captain Ricky Ponting (60) and Hussey pulled things back with a 115-run fifth-wicket partnership.

India resumed the day on 214 for 3 but added only 68 runs before losing the final seven wickets in the morning session on the third day.

Pacer Ben Hilfenhaus bagged his first five-wicket haul in Tests, 5 for 75, to shore up Australian spirits.

But India didn't allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the morning's collapse and punched holes in Australia's top order to have them reeling at 27 for 4.

The Australian camp was shaken after it lost the first three wickets to Umesh, the young speedster playing in only his third Test.

Zaheer again had alarm bells ringing by accounting for Ponting and Brad Haddin (6) in successive overs during the final hour of the day's play.

Umesh sent tremors through the Australian strikes by removing openers David Warner (5) and Ed Cowan (8) in his fourth over with only 13 on the board.

Warner aimed a cut at a Yadav delivery without much footwork and dragged the ball on to his stumps while Cowan shouldered arms to an incoming delivery and was rightly adjudged leg before wicket.

The shock in the Australian ranks was still not over before Shaun Marsh (3) made a similar mistake against Umesh, staying rooted to his spot and edging a drive on to his stumps.

Skipper Michael Clarke then received a beautiful in-cutter from Ishant which he edged back on to his stumps.

Australia needed strong and experienced hands to calm nerves and Ponting and Hussey were at hand to respond to the call.

Hussey, on a king's pair, drove the first ball he faced from Sharma to midwicket for three and from then on seized the initiative for his team.

He flicked and then hooked Umesh imperiously for fours and later gloriously straight-drove Ishant and cut Zaheer for fours.

Ponting was similarly assured at the other end and a straight-driven four of Ishant was the pick of his shots in the afternoon.

Australia took tea on 81 for 4 and continued the good work on resumption, raising 100 runs for the partnership from only 106 minutes of batting.

Ponting was the first to reach his half-century, gliding Ishant for a four through the point region. His fifty took 84 balls and was laced with three fours.

Hussey reached the landmark soon enough, from 73 balls and with the help of five boundaries, when he thrust Ashwin off his pads into the midwicket region for three runs.

With the game slipping out of India's grasp, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni fell back on his most experienced bowler, and Zaheer live up to his captain's faith.

The second delivery from the left-arm paceman slid off the face of Ponting's bat and was pouched by Virender Sehwag at gully. In the next over, a tentative Haddin edged Zaheer to second slip for six runs, leaving Australia down to 148 for 6.

The next big moment for India came in the final half hour when Ashwin, who bowled beautifully all afternoon, drew Hussey forward and found the edge of his bat but the easy chance was floored in the slips by Dravid. The left-hander was on 69, with the total reading 163 for 6.

At the same total, though, a wicket fell at the other end when Peter Siddle edged a Yadav delivery to a diving Dhoni in front of first slip.

Ashwin was rewarded for his hard work when he bowled his 'carom' delivery and caught Nathan Lyon (0) plumb in front of the stumps.

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