Melbourne - The old firm of Mike Hussey and Ricky Ponting kept Australia alive with a fighting century stand against India in the opening Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday.
The senior duo, with their Test futures under scrutiny, pulled their team out of a huge hole at 27 for four with a crucial 115-run partnership to give Australia a slight edge with two days left.
Former skipper Ponting finally fell for 60, but Hussey, dismissed for a controversial first-ball duck in the first innings, led the way with an unbeaten 79 as Australia reached stumps at 179 for eight.
The Australians extended their 51-run innings lead to a 230-run advantage by the close with a result possible on Thursday's fourth day.
Hussey, dropped on 69 by Rahul Dravid at slip, was positive from the outset and aggressively went after runs to show selectors he still has plenty to offer at the age of 36.
Ponting made his second half-century of the match and looked on target for his first Test hundred in almost two years before Zaheer Khan coaxed a thick edge to Virender Sehwag in the gully.
"We're 230 ahead now which I think is a reasonable total for India to chase but ideally I would like us to make a bit more than that," Ponting said.
Sehwag said India would be looking to keep Australia's lead under 300.
"I think it was a good day for India. The match is evenly balanced. If we win the game we will have to bat really well," he said.
Ponting praised Hussey's positive approach when he came to the crease with Australia in dire trouble.
"You have to show great intent in those situations and you have to be able to counter-attack at different times, and I thought the way that Mike Hussey handled that situation was great," he said.
Hussey lost more batting partners late in the day with the dismissals of Brad Haddin (six), Peter Siddle (four) and Nathan Lyon (four). James Pattinson (three not out) was with him at stumps.
Paceman Umesh Yadav initiated the Australian top-order collapse with the first three wickets, removing openers David Warner (five) and Ed Cowan (eight) within four balls, and finished with four wickets.
Warner was bowled playing on from a loose shot, while Cowan was leg before wicket while padding up.
Australia's woes deepened when Shaun Marsh dragged a wide Yadav delivery onto his stumps for three and skipper Michael Clarke followed in the next over, playing on an Ishant Sharma ball for one to leave his team at 27 for four.
Ben Hilfenhaus earlier claimed his best wicket haul in Tests to give Australia a handy first-innings lead as India were dismissed for 282 at lunch.
The Tasmanian swing bowler, recalled for his first Test match in almost a year, captured five for 75.
India lost seven wickets for 68 off 28.1 overs after they looked in command at 214 for two late on Tuesday.
Australia got off to a flyer when Dravid was bowled second ball by Hilfenhaus on his overnight score of 68.
Hilfenhaus breached the famed defence of "The Wall" and clipped his off-stump just five balls after Tuesday's last-over dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar for 73 by Siddle.
V.V.S. Laxman took 20 balls to get off the mark and fell for two, caught low down by wicketkeeper Haddin off Siddle.
Although Laxman has a great batting record in Australia with four Test centuries, he has scored just 113 runs in seven innings at 16.14 at the MCG, one of his least productive venues in 131 Tests.
Virat Kohli, playing in his fifth Test, was next to go, feathering an enticing Hilfenhaus outswinger to Haddin for 11.
Hilfenhaus struck again in his next over when skipper M.S. Dhoni got a thick outside edge to be caught in the gully by Hussey for just six.
Nightwatchman Sharma became Hilfenhaus's fifth wicket when he was taken behind by Haddin for 11 off 69 balls.
Ravi Ashwin showed resistance with 31 off 35 balls with three fours and a top-edged six before he was last man out to Siddle. Yadav remained two not out.
Haddin behind the stumps finished with five catches for the innings.