Peter Siddle is a captain's dream as a fast bowler. Throw him the ball at any point - first thing in the morning or five minutes before close under debilitating sunshine - and his effort does not waver. Physically strong and mentally capable of punishing himself to go the extra yard when the situation demands it, Siddle delivered five wickets on a day when Australia struggled to put India under pressure for any sustained period.
While Siddle's effort ensured that India went from 289 for no loss to 499 all out, in a strange sense it also ensured that India were in with a real chance of thinking about a win in a game that could so easily have meandered to a dull draw. Had India not been bowled out, there was every chance that they would not have begun bowling as soon as they did, given Mahendra Singh Dhoni's penchant for playing safe and looking at the larger picture of sealing a series rather than trying to win every Test. Once again, though, it was a case of a fast bowler stepping up and doing the job for Australia when others have struggled to deploy their skills in the most efficient manner.
While Siddle conceded that there was suddenly swing for the quick bowlers, cheekily suggesting that they might have finally got their choice of ball right, he did not try to hide the fact that the game was still in balance as far as Australia were concerned. "The first thing is to get those 16 runs we've got to get (to wipe out India's lead). Then see where we go. It's hard to say. We've got to make sure we get those 16 runs without losing a wicket, which would be ideal, and then see how the rest of the session plays out," said Siddle.
Australia ended the penultimate day of the match at 75 for 3, and already Phil Hughes, Steven Smith and Nathan Lyon, the nightwatchman, had come out to bat ahead of the indisposed Michael Clarke. When the Australian team left the ground on Sunday evening, it wasn't clear if Clarke would be able to bat at all in the game. "Michael Clarke injured his back in the warm-up this morning. He'll undergo further treatment overnight," said Alex Kontouris, Australia's physio. "We'll assess and see how it settles in the morning to determine when he's able to bat."
With Clarke forced down the order, any minor hopes Australia may have harboured of winning the game after conceding only a 91-run first-innings lead slipped away. "We're still behind, three wickets down and it's going to be hard. The first session is going to be big for us tomorrow morning," pointed out Siddle. "It's a matter of still fighting and putting up a good challenge here."
Siddle put the improvement in the bowling down to putting together groups of good overs and keeping the batsmen in check. "We knew that we had to build pressure and slow the run-rate down to put a bit of pressure back on India. We slowed the run-rate, we had some good (bowling) partnerships throughout the first session, which made it hard for India to score," he said. "When that happens, we know we can create chances. I think it shows that when we get things right, we can be very competitive and put the pressure on. But we've been off, we've been off … and that hurts."
What has really hurt Australia, however - and this has been the case in the last seven Tests they have played in India, from 2008 onwards - is the manner in which the batting has let the team down in the second innings. India will be keenly aware that even with the pitch doing nothing alarming, they are in with a strong chance, given that Australia's second-dig scores read: 195, 31/0, 209, 192, 223, 241 and 131. Of these scores, only the 31/0, which came in Delhi when India made 613 and Australia responded with a first-innings 577, resulted in anything but a loss.
In their current five-match losing streak on Indian soil, Australia average only 199.2, and this makes it difficult not merely to win games, but even to stave off defeat.
The primary cause for this is the lack of big partnerships, and Siddle conceded that this was the difference between the two sides. "We know we've been doing things right for sessions but not really for whole days. I think that's been the difference. The way we started yesterday afternoon wasn't ideal. Having 400 on the board, you want a couple of early wickets to put the pressure back on," explained Siddle. "I think we've let ourselves down by letting that one partnership get too big on us and put pressure on us. I think it's just that as an all-round unit, we haven't executed (plans) quite as well as we would have liked coming into the series. Obviously, we're going to have to pay for that."