Sachin Tendulkar was foiled yet again in his pursuit of a 100th international century, as Peter Siddle atoned in the final over for an earlier no-ball that reprieved Rahul Dravid, on another absorbing day of the first Test between Australia and India at the MCG.
Driven largely by Tendulkar's stand of 117 with Dravid, India reached a threatening 3 for 214 in reply to Australia's 333, but cursed the loss of Tendulkar for 73 on the stroke of stumps. Only a handful of overs had passed since Dravid had been bowled by Siddle and handed another start after Marais Erasmus' check revealed a front-foot transgression.
Australia's fielders gnashed their teeth over the incident and had struggled in the field, as catches went down and the captain Michael Clarke's resources were stretched by the absence of a fifth bowler. But Tendulkar's exit gave them cause for some hope for the third morning.
Tendulkar's serene innings in Dravid's company had wrestled the day India's way, following a second session speckled with incident and capped when James Pattinson splayed the stumps of Virender Sehwag, whose streaky 67 was typically entertaining. He gave two clear chances and another near enough to it, making merry until Pattinson was rewarded for a sustained and hostile spell in the lead-up to the tea interval. He had earlier crossed swords with Sehwag in an ill-tempered confrontation over the matter of right of way while running between the wickets. (Read: Sehwag involved in an altercation with Siddle, Pattinson)
Pattinson stood clearly above the rest as the most demanding member of Australia's attack, showing a fiery countenance as well as speed and movement, but the limitations of the rest were exposed on a pitch now friendly to batsmen. Siddle was punished early before his late rally, and Ben Hilfenhaus used the new ball with intelligence, disposing of Gautam Gambhir, but later faded.
He, Hilfenhaus and Pattinson had all hung around in the morning to build the hosts' total. Zaheer Khan claimed Brad Haddin and Siddle to return deserved figures of 4 for 77, while R Ashwin accounted for Hilfenhaus and the last man Nathan Lyon. Umesh Yadav did not add to his three wickets on the first day, while Ishant Sharma will bowl far worse for better returns than his 0 for 48 in 24 exacting overs.
Siddle and Haddin resumed against a refreshed India on a brilliantly warm and sunny day, and were not long in facing difficulty. Zaheer gained swing one way and seam the other in the day's second over with the still-new ball, and Haddin was bereft. He edged one delivery to the third man fence, either side of failing to cover, then snicked another low to gully where Virender Sehwag held it. (Also Read: Sehwag becomes 5th Indian to complete 8000 Test runs)
Haddin asked Sehwag if the catch had carried, and there was a further delay as the umpires checked for a possible no-ball, but eventually Australia's wicketkeeper was marching off, before many at the MCG had even settled into their seats. Siddle and Pattinson resisted momentarily, before Zaheer found another precise delivery to catch Siddle's edge as he pushed from the crease.
Hilfenhaus announced himself with a slap to the cover fence. He added a hairy edge over the slip cordon and an improbably commanding lofted drive down the ground, both off Zaheer, to push the total past 300. The impressively upright and correct Pattinson followed up by punching Ishant Sharma splendidly down the ground, helping his confidence but also indicating that the surface was becoming rather more pleasant for batting than at any stage of day one.
The duo reached drinks together, adding a pesky 27 in all before the introduction of Ashwin brought a Hilfenhaus heave to long on. Pattinson connected with a handful of further decent blows before Lyon was bowled around his pads. Sehwag and Gambhir negotiated a brief spell before lunch. Ed Cowan, Australia's debutant and top scorer on day one, was unable to field for a time due to back soreness, his place taken by Daniel Christian.
When the players returned, Sehwag and Gambhir struggled initially against the seam and swing of Hilfenhaus and Pattinson. A Sehwag edge off Pattinson burst through the hands of Michael Hussey in the gully - a chance that should have been held. Tempers were raised when Pattinson and Sehwag passed closely beside one another as the batsman took a run, resulting in a heated exchange that also drew in Siddle and had Sehwag pointing the senior bowler back to his fielding post.
The confrontation deflected momentary attention from Gambhir, whose best touch has been missing for most of 2011. Here he scratched around for three runs in 23 balls, the last of which was a shortish, seaming delivery from Hilfenhaus that Gambhir edged forlornly behind with an open face. Dravid arrived with the ball still new and Sehwag not yet into stride.
Quietly, the pair established themselves, offering due deference to some wholehearted bowling and accumulating runs in ones and twos before any great flurry of boundaries could be sought. The 15th over was reached before Sehwag opened up, twice stroking Siddle to the offside boundary, then repeating the trick by crashing Lyon to the sightscreen off successive balls to pass 50 from a sedate - by his standards - 59 balls. The next delivery brought a miscue and a quarter-chance to long on, where David Warner may or may not have reached the ball before it touched the turf.
Pattinson drew another chance from Sehwag's flailing bat when an edge behind was turfed unattractively by Brad Haddin, and it appeared India would reach the interval without further loss. But Pattinson's fire and persistence were justly rewarded in the moments before tea, with another freewheeling driving resulting in an inside edge that tilted middle stump.
Tendulkar made it to the middle accompanied by his requisite ovation, and caused Australian hearts to leap when an inside edge to his second ball slipped centimetres from the grasp of short leg. Tea came and went with Pattinson's electricity still in the air, but on their return Tendulkar and Dravid set out with intent to control the innings.
The first ball of the evening was flashed high over the slips and the rope for six by Tendulkar, not permitting Siddle a moment to gather himself. The next flowed through midwicket for three, and Tendulkar's course was set. He maintained a rollicking pace for most of the next two hours, taking particular toll on Siddle, and defusing Lyon.
At the other end Dravid fought himself as much as the bowlers, not locating the fluency of his England efforts, but nonetheless providing the foil Tendulkar required to blunt Australia's bowlers. Michael Clarke shuffled his quartet as best he could, but the pacemen's spells became briefer and briefer, forcing the use of Hussey and even David Warner's under-ripe legspin.
The century partnership was the 20th between Tendulkar and Dravid in Tests, a milestone befitting Test cricket's most prolific batting partnership. It appeared to have ended shortly after when Siddle brought one back between the latter's bat and pad. The roar of a crowd of 52,858 was redoubled, however, when replays showed that Siddle had overstepped.
Siddle's next delivery went close to perforating Dravid's defence again, and the bowler's pace did not flag as he pushed himself to make amends. For perhaps the first time in his innings Tendulkar became a little tentative, mindful of the close, and he was not decisive enough in his push down the track to prevent an in-ducker from bursting through to disturb the stumps. The nightwatchman Ishant Sharma survived the final three balls, but his presence has provided Australia a path into India's batting when the Test resumes.