Chennai: If Friday saw Michael Clarke resume his love affair with the Indian attack, then Saturday witnessed Sachin Tendulkar revive his appetite for tucking into Australian bowlers at a venue where he has scripted some defining innings in the past. Tendulkar had walked to the crease in the sixth over of India's innings with the scorecard reading 12 for 2, in reply to Australia's 380, and buckled down to take the score to 182 for 3 by stumps with 71 confidence-soaked runs to his name.
This was by far the most fluent innings in Tests from Tendulkar since the 80 he scored in Sydney in January 2012. He came in at precarious position after James Pattinson saw off the Indian openers cheaply, and combined for solid partnerships of 93 with Cheteshwar Pujara (44) and 77 with Virat Kohli (50*) as the hosts finished the second day 198 in arrears of Australia.
Pattinson struck the first blow in his second over when he bent a searing 150kph yorker into Murali Vijay (10) who was beaten for sheer pace and inside-edged a drive into the stumps. In his second over, Pattinson claimed a leaden-footed Virender Sehwag (2) when the batsman deflected a short-of-length delivery onto leg stump. Sehwag had been worked over by Mitchell Starc in the previous over and appeared in a daze, failing to spot the ball pop up off his bat and onto the stumps.
That brought to the crease Tendulkar, with much fanfare from the Chennai crowd, and he proceeded to hit three superbly-timed fours before the over was up. The first was the best of the three, as Tendulkar perfectly threaded the gap at cover to tease the fielders. Oddly, Pattinson was taken out of the attack after just three overs and this released some pressure on the batsmen,
Tendulkar's innings was an extension of the stroke-filled 140 he made in the recent Irani Trophy, and was peppered with some excellent boundaries square of the wicket on both sides. This was vintage Tendulkar, rolling his wrists to caress the ball around the ground and playing forward with a solidity not seen for some time. His fifty needed 80 balls and came up with a single to long-on.
Pujara was solid off front foot and back, and played some pleasing shots cuts in the arc square of the wicket. Against the run of play, though, he was bowled for 44 by a delivery from Pattinson which stayed a touch low and hit the stumps. It was Pattinson's third bowled dismissal and came in the second over of a post-tea spell.
Kohli offered able assistance for Tendulkar and kept the bowlers searching for a breakthrough for the next 23.2 overs; he reached his fifty in the final over of the day. With this innings, Tendulkar has extended his average at the MA Chidambaram Stadium to 94.70; it is his 67th Test half-century and 16th versus Australia.
Earlier, R Ashwin bagged a career-best 7 for 103 as Australia were bowled out for 380 in an extended morning session on day two, but not before Australia had added another 64 runs to the overnight total. India had been frustrated by a 54-run stand between Australian captain Michael Clarke (130) and Peter Siddle (19), which was only snapped later in the first session. Play was extended by 30 minutes following the fall of the ninth wicket at 364, and it took 17 additional minutes before Ashwin took the final wicket.
The first hour went Australia's way as 32 runs were added by Clarke and Siddle. There were just two boundaries in that period - one each to the two batsmen - but the pair ran 14 singles and five twos. Apart from an edge off Siddle that didn't carry to slip, there was little that went India's way. Clarke - who today went past Greg Chappell in the all-time list of Australian Test run-scorers - received a life on 128 when Pujara at silly point grassed a thick edge, but he was only able to add two to his total before miscuing a lofted shot to long-off. His was the highest score by an Australia captain in India, surpassing Ricky Ponting's 123 in Bangalore in 2008.
Moments later Sehwag managed to hold a catch at slip to give Harbhajan Singh a wicket in his 100th Test, sending back Siddle for an obdurate 19. The 94 deliveries that Siddle faced were more than Ed Cowan, Shane Watson and Matthew Wade had managed. Harbhajan was denied the wicket of Pattinson by Kumar Dharmasena, who turned down the simplest of lbw appeals; on Friday Dharmasena - the ICC Umpire of the Year - had failed to spot a thick edge when Clarke was on 39.
Pattinson (15 off 47 balls) and Nathan Lyon put on 16 in 12 overs for the last wicket, before the latter was smartly taken one-handed by Kohli at backward short leg. Pattinson was left on 15 from 47 balls, the last wicket having yielded 16 runs in 12 overs.