Clarke and Ponting double-tons keep Australia on top

Of course, Australia lost three top-order men in the first session of the match and it didn’t hurt them, but after nearly 11 hours of roasting in the field, India’s batsmen must find some energy on the third day to match Australia. At stumps, Sachin Tendulkar was on 12 and Gautam Gambhir had reached 30, with India on 2 for 61, and on the best batting pitch of the tour India needed someone to bring up the team’s first century of the series.

Already they had lost Virender Sehwag, who was brilliantly caught by Peter Siddle off his own bowling on 18. Flat-footed and stuck to the crease, Sehwag toe-edged a ball high to the right of Siddle, who thrust his hand up and pulled in one of the best catches of the summer, and nobody was happier than Ed Cowan, the man who dropped a regulation chance at midwicket when Sehwag had 5.

India were 2 for 31 when Rahul Dravid (1) was bowled for the sixth time in the series, the victim of a strange occurrence when a Ben Hilfenhaus delivery ricocheted off his elbow and down on to the stumps. The Australians hadn’t found much swing in the hot Adelaide conditions, but the two breakthroughs gave them a strong start after the outstanding work of their own batsmen.

By pushing the total to 7 for 604 before Clarke declared the innings closed, Australia gave themselves a chance of a third innings victory in the series, something they haven’t achieved in more than 60 years. India haven’t lost three Tests in a series by an innings in more than 50 years. There’s plenty of cricket to be played before such a scenario becomes a realistic possibility, but the groundwork had been laid.

The 386-run partnership between Ponting and Clarke was the fourth-highest of all time for Australia in Test cricket, and all three of the stands above them on the list featured Don Bradman. Clarke became the third player in Test history, after Bradman and Wally Hammond, to score a triple-hundred and a double-century in the same series.

For the sixth time in the series Australia batted through an entire session, this time the first of the day, without losing a wicket. The runs flowed freely as India wilted. Clarke and Ponting went to lunch already having compiled the highest partnership ever recorded in an Adelaide Test, beating the previous record of 341 set by South Africa’s Eddie Barlow and Graeme Pollock in 1963-64. By then, Clarke had his double-ton and Ponting was within touching distance of his.

Clarke brought up his with a clip for two through midwicket off R Ashwin and celebrated another monstrous innings in the series: after his unbeaten 329 in Sydney, he finished this innings with 557 runs already in 2012. All through 2011, he managed 618. He didn’t add to his score after lunch; on 210, Clarke was bowled by Umesh Yadav, who kept at the batsmen, despite leaking runs.

Ponting was on 199 when Clarke departed, and his sixth Test double-century came with a strong front-foot pull to the boundary off Yadav. For a while, it looked like Ponting would go on to register his highest Test score, which stood at 257, but eventually the pull brought him undone when he picked out the deep midwicket, Sachin Tendulkar, who took a well-judged catch jumping to his left.

Already India had removed Michael Hussey for 25 with a very sharp piece of work from Gambhir at silly point. Hussey pushed the ball and took off anticipating a single, but Gambhir was good enough to collect the ball cleanly and aware enough to flick it onto the stumps, catching Hussey short.

It was an example of how India needed to field; half-chances had to be grabbed. There weren’t always. Ponting was put down on 215 when VVS Laxman at midwicket grassed a chance off the bowling of Ashwin and Ishant Sharma had missed the chance for a return catch when Ponting had 186, the ball struck back at a catchable pace but the bowler not alert enough to get his hands to it.

In the end, India picked up a few wickets, including one off a good carrom ball from Ashwin that kissed the edge of Peter Siddle’s bat and was taken by Wriddhiman Saha – his first Test catch. By that stage, India had taken 3 for 13, but Brad Haddin (42 not out) and Ryan Harris (35 not out) refused to make life easy for India and batted through until the declaration came after tea.

For India, it was another dreadful day. The film critic Leonard Maltin’s entire review of Police Academy 4 was: “More of the same, only worse”. It could also have been said of India in the field, particularly in the morning. The bowling was too often insipid, and Sehwag’s captaincy uninspiring and conservative.

At times, he did not appear to think taking a wicket was that important. Ashwin was given fields that encouraged him to bowl straight, and both Clarke and Ponting picked off the runs with ease. Ashwin finished with an unwanted record of his own, his 3 for 194 the most expensive bowling analysis ever recorded in an Adelaide Test, but he had his captain to thank – or blame – for much of that.

By stumps, it was all down to India’s batsmen. The pitch had plenty of runs in it. India just needed their batsmen to find them.

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