Kumble spins India into the ascendancy

<preform>Australia 235 and 150-4<br>India 376</preform>
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After another absorbing day of fluctuating fortunes, India, who are one down in the four-Test series, nosed ahead in this second confrontation against Australia by the end of the third day here - but only just.

After another absorbing day of fluctuating fortunes, India, who are one down in the four-Test series, nosed ahead in this second confrontation against Australia by the end of the third day here - but only just.

With the ball now turning and jumping appreciably, any target in excess of 150 in the fourth innings could be prohibitive. The question is: can the tourists' three remaining specialist batsmen - Damien Martyn, Darren Lehmann and Michael Clarke, all quality and resilient exponents - extend their paltry lead of nine runs, having already lost four wickets, to throw down the gauntlet to India?

In the final session yesterday the man at the helm, Adam Gilchrist, ignited a flicker of hope in the visiting camp. He promoted himself to No 3 in the order after Justin Langer perished to the first ball after tea, tempted into a drive by Anil Kumble which he only edged to slip. The captain found gaps others could not. But the relentless Kumble produced a beauty to extinguish the expectation. He bowled Gilchrist around his legs with a googly that turned acutely.

The latest member of the 400 club, Kumble's performance in this Test has been a revelation. He has rediscovered the old rhythm that had deserted him since he returned from surgery on his shoulder three years ago. Australia were fairly cruising on the first day when they were ambushed by the veteran. Even the dreaded outlaw Verappan, in the sandal-wood forests of Kumble's home state of Karnataka, might have twirled his menacing moustache in appreciation.

In Gandhian tradition, Kumble dismantled the visiting line-up with the non-violence of spin. His 7 for 48 on a batsman-friendly track on the opening day must rank among his finest feats. The visitors disintegrated from 136 for no loss to 235 all out.

As the saying goes, if the heat doesn't get you in Madras, the humidity will. To overcome this, drinks are being taken twice in the last session of play. Besides, with the replenishment for the Australians come parasols and a pair of chairs to relieve the batsmen in the middle. But surprisingly the India batsman Mohammad Kaif rather than any of the Australians fell victim to fluid loss.

Having steered India into a strong position on 363 for 7 at lunch, he failed to resume his innings after the interval, struck down by dehydration and cramp. When he finally re-emerged - with a runner - after the fall of the ninth wicket, he dramatically drove the first ball over long-on for four. The next delivery he reverse-swept, but then absent-mindedly started for a run, only to collapse with a recurrence of the cramp and fail to return. But his gritty half-century consolidated India's grip on the match.

Even after Australia crumpled in a heap, India still had to accumulate sufficient runs in their first outing to avert an unpleasant target in the second. To accomplish this, at least one of the luminaries in their line-up had to fire.

In the event, it was the recently much- maligned Virender Sehwag who did. He combined uncharacteristic patience with customary aplomb - replete with trademark cuts, drives, flicks and pulls, even the slog-sweep - to lay an invaluable foundation for the Indians. It was still done with a minimum of footwork and maximum hand-eye co-ordination. But his 155 unequivocally held his side's innings together.

The indefatigable Shane Warne wheeled away for one-and-a-half days to be rewarded with a career-best return in India, 6 for 125. In the process, he eased past Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan on Friday to hold the world record for the highest number of Test wickets. Critics may carp that the batsmen he dismissed were all left-handers, whom he prised out with the aid of the rough. Still, it was a marathon spell in sweltering conditions.

One of his scalps was Parthiv Patel. This pint-sized figure - in collaboration with Kaif - converted the previous night's half-century stand into a priceless three-figure partnership for the seventh wicket and in so doing completed his second fifty in as many Tests in this series. Last month, he used his omission from the India one-day squad to take his high-school examinations - a tryst he had kept postponing for two years because of his preoccupation with national duty.

But this promising teenager's long-term future could be threatened if he does not improve his wicketkeeping. Yesterday, he spilled the opener Matthew Hayden off the resurgent left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan before the dangerous left-hander had opened his account. Later, however, Hayden would top-edge a wild sweep to mid-on.

With the obdurate Simon Katich also gone, leg-before to Zaheer, it looked a steep, though not impossible, ascent for the Australians.