MELBOURNE, Dec 26 (PTI): India captured three quick wickets in the final session but a fightback by Australia�s defiant lower-order batsmen ensured that the honours were shared on an engrossing opening day of the first cricket Test here today.
Electing to bat, Australia were struggling at 214 for six at one stage before Brad Haddin (21 batting) and Peter Siddle (34 batting) steered them to a more respectable 277 for six in 89 overs at close of play.
While Indian seamers bowled well in patches, a 113-run third wicket partnership between under-fire former skipper Ricky Ponting (62) and debutant opener Ed Cowan (68) and an unbroken 63-run seventh wicket stand between Haddin and Siddle that helped the home team recover after a mini-collapse.
Talented Umesh Yadav (3 for 96) bowled fast touching 150.1 kmph on speedometer as he snared the wickets of David Warner (37), Shaun Marsh (0) and Ponting, but was also guilty of sending down too many boundary balls.
The wily Zaheer Khan (2 for 49 in 23 overs) also bowled well within himself as he sent back Clarke (31) and Michael Hussey (0) off successive deliveries. Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin should be given a lot of credit for removing the stodgy Cowan who played 177 balls hitting seven fours in the process.
That Umpire Decision Review System is not being used has hurt both the teams. Australia was at the receiving end of two dubious decisions as both Michael Hussey (0) and Cowan didn�t seem to have got any edge but were adjudged caught behind.
India too must have felt a twinge of regret when Brad Haddin on 19, wasn�t given out leg before off a Zaheer delivery even though he looked absolutely plumb at the fag end of the day�s play.
India got crucial breakthroughs against the run of play after Australia had raced to 46 for no loss in the morning session and later, in the final session, were cruising along at 205 for 3.
After opener David Warner (37) provided a blazing start, Yadav dismissed both Warner and No 3 batsman Shaun Marsh (0) in a space of seven deliveries to reduce Australia to 47 for two.
Later, in the final session, Australian slumped from 205/3 to 205/5 after Zaheer saw the back of captain Clarke (31) and Michael Hussey (0) off successive deliveries.
Yadav struck the first blow when his well-directed bouncer saw the stockily built Aussie opener go for a mistimed hook shot. The resultant catch was easily taken by Dhoni.
Yadav then angled a fullish delivery to Marsh who went for a drive only to be caught by Virat Kohli stationed at gully. In between these two strikes and the mini collapse suffered in the final session, Australia�s batting had prospered and India had begun to look ragged in the field.
Cowan and Ponting added 113 runs, batting in contrasting yet effective style. Cowan made only 14 in nearly two hours of morning session but Ponting had already raced to 15 by lunch, even though he had a narrow escape when a Yadav bouncer hit him on the helmet and nearly rolled on to his stumps.
Resuming at lunch-time score of 68 for 2, Ponting went into an overdrive on resumption and reeled off a series of boundaries to trigger a similar response from Cowan.
Ponting helped off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin towards leg side in the first over to set the tone of the session and then twice picked Yadav for a pulled and flicked boundary to move into 30s.
Cowan himself was a changed batsman as he took a great helping off the bowling of Yadav. The young bowler was first driven through the covers; then pulled to fence before twice being cut over and between the slip cordon for fours. Both batsmen were now in their 40s but Ponting was the first one to reach his half century when he went down on his knees to lift Ashwin into the midwicket region.
A little later it was Cowan�s turn to raise his bat in celebration when he pushed Ishant on to the off-side for a single. The century-stand between the two for the third wicket came off 123 balls in 162 minutes.
India fought back through steady spells, full of intent, from Ashwin and Ishant Sharma and the reward of this pressure was reaped by Yadav.
Brought on to bowl just before the tea break, Yadav bowled an outswinger at Ponting which he could only edge it to third slip VVS Laxman. The former Australian captain was in imperious form but for a few moments of uncertainty and made 62 runs from 94 balls in 148 minutes with seven fours.
There was no hint of disaster as Australia serenely progressed to 170 for 3 by tea which Cowan still going strong on 62 and Clarke looking to take roots on 7.
Clarke pressed on for a while in the final session and had reached 31 from 68 balls when he went to play Zaheer Khan on the backfoot and dragged the ball on to his stumps.
The left-arm paceman made it a twin strike in two balls when Michael Hussey (0) leapt off the ground in trying to evade a bouncer and a vociferous appeal led to umpire Marais Erasmus raising his finger in affirmation.
The television replays showed the umpire on the wrong as the ball hadn�t brushed any part of the bat on way to the wicketkeeper. A stunned Hussey, fighting for his career, was distraught on being given the marching order. He cut a forlorn figure as he dragged himself out of the field.
India�s spell of happiness was complete when the most obdurate of all batsmen was accounted for by Ashwin. Cowan had been calm and composed during his stay at the crease, but looked rattled by the quick losses at the other end.
He tried to cut an Ashwin delivery which wasn�t short enough and ended up edging it for wicketkeeper Dhoni.
Australia 1st innings: Ed Cowan c Dhoni n Ashwin 68, David Warner c Dhoni b Yadav 37, Shaun Marsh c Kohli b Yadav 0, Ricky Ponting c Laxman b Yadav 62, Michael Clarke b Khan 31, Mike Hussey c Dhoni b Khan 0, Brad Haddin batting 21, Peter Siddle bating 34. Extras: (LB-21, WD-2, NB-1) 24. Total: (For 6 wickets in 89 overs) 277. Fall of wickets: 1-46, 2-46, 3-159, 4-205, 5-205, 6-214. Bowling: Zaheer Khan 23-5-49-2, Ishant Sharma 20-6-40-0, Umesh Yadav 20-4-96-3, R Ashwin 26-2-71-1.