Clarke leads Australian resurgence

New Delhi, November 1:

A gritty century from vice-captain Michael Clarke and two late wickets erased Australia’s fears of defeat in the third Test as the visitors ended the fourth day just 79 runs behind India.

Part-time offspinner Virender Sehwag broke through for his maiden five-wicket haul, but Clarke’s resistance in his knock of 112 meant it would be difficult for either team to manufacture a result.

The hosts took a 36-run lead when they dismissed Australia for 577 — their highest total in India — but lost Virender Sehwag and nightwatchman Ishant Sharma in reaching 43-2 at stumps. Australia’s total of 577 bettered their 574-7 declared in Chennai in 1986, and was their second highest in all Tests against India, behind the match in Adelaide in 1948.

Sehwag (16) was bowled by Brett Lee before Sharma (1) popped a catch to Ricky Ponting off Stuart Clark. Gautam Gambhir was unbeaten on 21 and Rahul Dravid was on five at stumps. India lead the series 1-0 and would be unlikely to risk setting Australia a reachable target, meaning the series will probably be decided in the final Test starting in Nagpur on Thursday.

Clarke, who struck six fours and a six in his 253-ball knock, was well supported by Cameron White as the pair combined for a 106-run stand for the seventh wicket. White recorded his highest score in his three-Test career with 44 before playing the ball onto his stumps off Sehwag, giving the Indian his fifth wicket.

Clarke survived three chances, including one when he was missed at mid-off by Sharma before he had added to his overnight 21. Another reprieve came on 91 when VVS Laxman spilled a simple opportunity from a top-edged sweep off Sehwag, who was also the unfortunate bowler in his next over, as Amit Mishra dropped a chance in the deep when Clarke was on 94. Sehwag, who finished with 5-104, removed Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey on the third day, and claimed another wicket today by bowling Shane Watson (36).

Watson and Clarke resumed at 338-4 and their 73-run stand for the fifth wicket ended when Watson moved too far across the stumps and was bowled by Sehwag. Sehwag took on a heavier bowling load on Friday after captain Kumble was forced to get treatment for a split webbing on his left hand.

Kumble returned to bowl today’s opening session and took his first wicket of the series when he had wicketkeeper Brad Haddin (17) stumped, leaving Australia at 426-6. Lee (8) became Kumble’s second victim, falling leg before wicket, and he took a fine running catch to remove Mitchell Johnson caught-and-bowled to end the inning. Kumble finished with 3-112.