For five sessions,Michael Clarke had continually demonstrated the futility of the off side sweeper. MS Dhoni had stationed a fielder there for large swathes of his innings,and Clarke was finding the boundary anyway,slapping the ball to his left or driving to his right as he pleased. Theres only so much you can do to limit the damage when your bowlers keep giving batsmen width.
In the 147th over of Australias innings,Ishant Sharma landed another delivery in his zone,ripe for the drive. The bat swooped down on the ball,and the sweepers only movement was a short walk to his right to pick up the ball and lob it back as applause rattled the air.
In the 100th Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground,a Sydneysider had made the highest Test score recorded at the venue,ensuring that Reginald Erskine Tip Fosters 287 for England in January 1904 would henceforth feature as the answer to only one quiz question regarding the highest score by a Test debutant.
On his debut,a 23-year-old Clarke had scored a dazzling 151 against the same opposition. Seven and a half years later,having assumed Australias captaincy,Clarke now prepared to double that effort.
It came with another four,a full ball on his legs flicked daintily through midwicket off Ishant. Unlike in Melbourne,the attendance figures had grown from Day Two to Day Three,and the ovation from the 31644 that had come through the turnstiles was tumultuous. They probably expected Clarke to go after a couple more records. There were still two and a half days remaining in the Test,after all,and Australias lead,with that last shot,had just crossed 400. Out in the distance was Brian Laras 400 not out,and then there was Matthew Haydens 380,the highest score by an Australian.
But Clarke didnt even go as far as 334 (a declaration on that score would make him the second Australian skipper to give Don Bradman that tribute). Five runs away from that number,he strode briskly off the field,patting Mike Hussey on the back. The fifth-wicket partnership,weirdly enough,had reached 334,but the reason for the declaration was that Hussey,barely drawing any attention to himself,had reached 150.
Husseys support act
Husseys innings will remain the least celebrated among the three centuries in Australias innings,coming as it did on a perfect wicket against a flagging set of bowlers. But it summed up Australias calmly ruthless approach in this Test match. Despite the situation he walked into,Hussey played as he would have had the score been 128/4,never letting extravagance or indolence enter his play.
The bowlers,coming out with a first-innings cushion of 468 behind them,stuck to their task with the same mentality. James Pattinson could have been excused a tilt at the bowling speed record,or a little session of fast,short intimidation. But as he always does,he bowled full and made the batsman worry about his off stumps whereabouts. As did Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle.
On the other hand,Virender Sehwag,from whom the Indians may have appreciated a little bit of tightness,slapped a wide one uppishly towards point,where a flying David Warner latched on to it. At times like these,the thoughtful in his own way Sehwag who can pace an innings if he wants to seems a distant memory.
After tea,Rahul Dravid stroked Hilfenhaus for four fours in two overs. The last of these,a wristy on drive placed between two catchers in the short midwicket region,suggested that Dravid was in his best form so far on this tour.
But for the third time in four innings,Dravid was bowled,Hilfenhaus producing a beauty that moved just a fraction off the pitch to sneak through a fairly small space between bat and front pad.
Following Sachin Tendulkars entry to the crease,the consistency of line and length reached a new high. Siddle and Hilfenhaus bowled eight maidens on the trot,with Tendulkar taking all of the formers bowling and Gautam Gambhir taking the latters. The line was slightly wider than in the first innings or at Melbourne,but the pitch was that much flatter,and it had now become a question of patience.
Pattinson came on,and bowled a near-maiden,with a no-ball ending the sequence of dot-balls at 52. At the end of his next over,Hilfenhaus almost had Tendulkar with an in-ducker,catching the inside edge but missing the stumps by half a centimetre. Two balls later,keeper Brad Haddin dropped Gambhir.
If the bowlers keep up their ceaselessly menacing display on Day 4,the edges will keep coming. One or two of the Indian batsmen might need to play among the best innings of their stellar careers to tire out this Australian attack.