Mohali:Virender Sehwag delivered a brutal response to stun Australia with a quick half-century as India finished the second day of a two-paced Test on a high. Sehwag raced to a 39-ball fifty but was undone by Mitchell Johnson shortly before the close for 59, walking off frustrated by his error.
India finished at 110 for 2 at stumps in reply to the visitors' 428, with Rahul Dravid unbeaten on 21 and the nightwatchman Ishant Sharma on 0. Both the local openers showed the positive intent that was often missing in the field when they put on 81 in 13.2 overs to build on Zaheer Khan's 10th five-wicket haul. Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir (25) and Dravid quickly changed the value of Australia's total during a breathless finish to a day that had previously followed a sombre tempo.
After Australia had sweated to score at 2.82 an over, the Indians were soon careering along at a run a ball to upset a visiting attack that battled to regain control. Sehwag started biffing through the offside, hitting two boundaries from a Doug Bollinger over, and then crashing three off Ben Hilfenhaus. Nathan Hauritz's first ball went over mid-off, his next sped along the ground in the same region for the same result, and the over cost 11.
Gambhir was lbw to Johnson (2-29) but the most important blow came with a few minutes left in the day when Sehwag's leading edge went to Michael Clarke at cover. The crowd went silent but the Australians roared, mostly with relief.
The visitors were encouraged after they had blunted India's bowlers and blossomed under Tim Paine's guidance as he narrowly missed a maiden century in his third Test. Showing impressive determination, he first stabilised his team with Shane Watson and then lifted the pace with Johnson during an energetic 82-run stand.
The gains came after Watson's assured 126 set the platform while Zaheer kept interrupting the tourists to prevent a damaging score. The total is tough to gauge and took more than five sessions to compile, but the Australians were satisfied after some difficulties on both days.
However, it is a target that India's batsmen could conquer by the end of the third day if they build on Sehwag's start. At times during Australia's innings the lack of urgency from both sides, in particular the home team's lapses in the field, appeared to indicate everyone would be content with a draw. Sehwag changed the thinking.
Having crawled 71 in the opening session, Australia relaxed through Paine and Johnson after lunch and started to swing freely against the tiring spin duo of Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha. Johnson skipped to 47, striking three sixes, and provided a necessary boost to take Australia to safer ground.
Paine also increased his rate, lifting Ojha over midwicket for consecutive boundaries in his most memorable burst, and showed his comfort at this level. Dropped by MS Dhoni on 0 yesterday, Paine refused to submit to the various tensions and played the sort of settling innings the injured Brad Haddin could not have managed.
At times it was easy to wish for some Haddin extravagance, but Paine delivered an old-fashioned display, just as Watson had done so purposefully. In the first hour Watson and Paine scraped 25 as they followed the extra cautious method of the previous afternoon.
The stress eased for Paine after drinks in the morning when he glanced his first four from his 61st ball, gaining confidence from the unshackling. He drove and late cut Zaheer for another couple of boundaries and was soon comfortable in the humid conditions and on the turning surface.
In the end Paine struck 12 fours from 196 deliveries, showing his ability off both feet, and his sharp reading of the slow men. He was dropped by Dhoni again on 86 but VVS Laxman quickly made up for the mistake with a sharp catch low down at second slip to give Zaheer his fifth breakthrough.
The innings ended when Bollinger holed out to provide Ojha with his first wicket in his 52nd over of an economical but unrewarding marathon. Zaheer stepped up for the under-manned India with 5 for 94 while Harbhajan collected 3 for 114 off 49 overs.
After resuming at 224 for 5, the Australians crept forward in the morning with a couple of aims. They didn't want to expose the lower order too soon, especially with India's spinners operating, and they intended to keep the local attack in the field for as long as possible. They were successful on both counts and frustrated the hosts, who expected a quick end to the innings following their late surge on day one.
Watson's concentration finally broke when he pushed at a flighted offspinner from Harbhajan and popped it to Gambhir at short leg, ending his 338-ball resistance. The wicket threatened to change the game but it was not until almost an hour after tea that Australia were finally dismissed. For most of the day Zaheer worked with the old ball - the new one remained unused until the 147th over - and he succeeded even though he could not gain the severe swing that hurt the tourists on the opening afternoon.
Harbhajan was also a threat and Ojha was tidy, but both were overused - they had to be - due to the knee injury to Sharma. Ishant returned with four unconvincing overs and India will be desperate for him to have more impact in the second innings.