Sachin Tendulkar showed glimpses of his vintage form with a fluent unbeaten half-century as India recovered from two early jolts to leave the first cricket Test against Australia evenly poised here today.
The 39-year-old veteran, who had been struggling for form for a long time, played with decisive footwork and a positive frame of mind to guide India to 182 for three in 52 overs on the second day at the M A Chidambaram Stadium, which saw local boy R Ashwin grab a career-best seven-wicket haul.
Tendulkar (71 batting) and Virat Kohli (50 batting) were at the crease when stumps were drawn with India still trailing by 198 runs. The two have so far added 77 runs for the fourth wicket.
Tendulkar, in the course of his 67th Test half-century, touched another milestone by surpassing 7,000 runs on home turf. Kohli, on the other hand, completed his seventh Test half-century at the fag end of the day.
Resuming at the overnight score of 316/7, the Australians continued to frustrate the Indians with captain Michael Clarke (130) and the tailenders combining to score 64 more runs to take the score to a competitive 380.
Ashwin, who had scalped six wickets on the opening day, cliamed the wicket of last man Nathan Lyon to return with figures of 7/103, while left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja (2/71) and Harbhajan Singh (1/87) were the other wicket-takers.
The Indian reply was disastrous to start with as openers Virender Sehwag (10) and Murali Vijay (2) departed in close succession, falling to tearaway pacer James Pattinson, who was used in short spells.
But Cheteshwar Pujara (44) and Tendulkar steadied the innings to some extent with a 93-run third-wicket partnership. Both the batsmen launched a brilliant counter-attack to unsettle the Aussie bowlers.
Tendulkar hit two glorious fours off first two balls he faced from Pattinson and clobbered another majestic boundary off the fourth ball, making his intentions clear.
Just when the duo seemed to be crusing along comfortably, Pattinson provided the breakthrough when he came back for his second spell by accounting for Pujara.
Pujara fell to a off-cutter in the 29th over after striking six fours in his 76-ball stay at the crease.
With three days left in the game, India will look to come close to the Australian total and then push to seize the initiative.
Earlier, both the openers were out bowled. Vijay was the first to go after a 15-ball stay, which included two fours, done in by Pattinson's pace.
Sehwag quickly followed his partner back to the pavillion, failing to spot a slower one from Pattionson which bounced inside the crease and dislodged the bail of his leg stump.
But Pujara and Tendulkar steadied the rocking boat, bringing up the team's 50 in the 13th over. The two displayed patience but at the same time kept the scoreboard ticking.
They completed a half-century stand for the third wicket in 68 deliveries to rescue India from the precarious position.
Tendulkar was then joined by Kohli, who had a disappointing series against England, unleashed a flurry of shots to announce his return to form.
Earlier, in the morning session, Australian batsmen frustrated Indian bowlers with determined batting before being bowled out for 380 in their first innings.
Resuming at 316 for 7, the visitors resisted the home attack for 38 overs and added 64 runs. They were also helped to an extent by a few decisions that went in their favour much to to India's frustration.
Since the last-wicket pair of James Pattinson and Nathan Lyon was at the crease at the official lunch time, the morning session was extended and at the fall of the latter, the break was taken.
Indian off-spinner R Ashwin registered his career-best figures (7/103) while Ravindra Jadeja (2/71) took two wickets.
Michael Clarke and Peter Siddle kept the Indian bowlers at bay for about 90 minutes before the Australian captain went for an extravagant shot off Jadeja, miscued it and gave the hosts a chance to clean up the tail.
Clarke stepped out to loft Jadeja over his head for a straight six but just managed an edge that flew to the hands of Bhuvneshwar Kumar at long-off.
Clarke's splendid 130-run captain's knock came off 246 balls with 13 boundaries including one shot over the fence. It also ended 54-run fighting stand between him Siddle (19).
Soon, Harbhajan Singh's long wait to get a wicket ended when he had Siddle caught at first slip.
Playing his 100th Test and going wicket-less on the opening day, it took the off-spinner the last ball of his 24th over to get his first.
There was only frustration for Indian bowlers after that as the last-wicket pair of Pattinson and Lyon batted for another 12 overs.
Ashwin had Lyon plumb in front of the wicket but yet again Dharamsena thought otherwise. However, four balls later, Lyon swept, found an edge and Virat Kohli took an athletic catch at backward short leg to end the Australian innings.
Earlier, neither the spinners nor medium-fast bowlers could trouble the batsmen much until Clarke lost focus and tried to push the accelerator button on.
The chances were far and few as Clarke and Siddle batted with determination. The nearest Clarke came close to getting out was when while coming forward his uppish defensive shot went towards silly point Cheteshwar Pujara, who could not held on to the half-chance.
Then Siddle edged one behind off Harbhajan but that was a tough chance for wicket-keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.