Then came Katich and Ponting. Phil Hughes and Simon Katich, an unlikely Australian opening pair at the start of the year, saw off the new ball. Hughes fell to England's best bowler, but then Ponting and Katich, two senior professionals, made the most of a fine 2nd day wicket. Australia are still 186 behind and could easily still concede a first innings lead. They have to bat last and so they must aim at a non-trivial lead. In a first innings of 400+ that should be at least 50-75 runs. But over the first two days, Australia have made fewer unforced errors than England. As a result, despite having lost the toss and the chance to bat first, Australia, even with their less than world-beating bowling attack find themselves reasonably placed after 6 sessions of play.
Needless to say, the first session tomorrow will be crucial. It will be upto England to make the play. But with two batsmen with hundreds to their name, England will be unable to go into an all out attack. England have another choice. They could play it like India did at Nagpur in 2008. Australia reached 2/189 in 49 overs by the end of day 2, after India had made 441 in their first innings. Michael Hussey and Simon Katich were well set. In 53 overs on Day 3 from the start of play to Tea time, India conceded 91 runs. As a result, they were able to break the Australian momentum and have Australia 6 down by Tea. They eventually gained a first innings lead of 86.
India effectively slowed down the game. They bowled 53 overs in 4 hours instead of 60. This is a very risky strategy. The rule about overrates has been put in place so that teams cannot deprive the opposition of making progress by delaying the game. However, slow overrates don't matter if the bowling side bowls the batting side out. So, if a bowling side bowls the opposition out in 40 overs, but takes 4 hours to bowl the 40 overs, there is no penalty. But if a bowling side takes 6 hours to bowl 60 overs and hasn't bowled the side out, then the captain of the bowling side is in deep trouble. If Australia had managed to wait India out and remain say 3 down at Tea time instead of 6 down, Dhoni would have been in deep trouble. This is actually a reasonable rule. Because the only way to make progress in a Test Match is to complete the 4 innings - which is typically accomplished when 10 wickets fall in each innings. Thats why you will find, that a bowling side, which starts bowling say 30 minutes after Tea on one day, and finishes bowling at tea time on the next day (having bowled the opposition out), rarely gets into trouble with the match referee for overrates despite having a very slow overrate (maybe 11.5, 12 overs per hour) on paper.
This is a hard nosed professional strategy, which is very hard to execute. It is one thing to bowl your overs slowly if you don't know what youre doing. The bowling side could be conceding 4.5 runs per over and bowling 12 overs an hour. This almost always means that they are being outclassed - that the wicket is very flat and the outfield is very fast. But it is quite another to slow down the game deliberately. It takes a high quality side to actually execute this successfully. In fact, i would say that it is one of the essential abilities of a top quality test side. It is one of the most potent ways of controlling the game when the conditions favor the batting side.
England could attempt this. They have in the past, most notably in India in 2006. Will they try this tomorrow?