India were the last team to seriously threaten Australia in Tests at home and it took only one day in Melbourne for Anil Kumble to reignite the spark. Kumble was the architect and builder of the Indian challenge, grabbing 5 for 84 and denying Matthew Hayden a satisfactory party after he scored his sixth century in Boxing Day Tests.
At the close Australia were 9 for 337 with Mitchell Johnson on 10 and Stuart Clark on 21. While Andrew Symonds and Adam Gilchrist remained at the crease Australia were still hoping for a recovery and a hefty first-innings score but Kumble ended both of their stays in the final session before the lower order fell away in unusually quick fashion.
Gilchrist top-edged an attempted slog over long-on and was caught at point for 19, soon after Symonds (35) had pulled hard to midwicket. Kumble continued to leave a trail of destruction when Brett Lee was lbw pushing forward to a straighter delivery for 0 before Brad Hogg edged Zaheer Khan to slip for 17. The strikes meant a highly productive day for India, who proved a much harder unit to rattle than Australia's most recent Test guests, Sri Lanka and England.
It was also an impressive recovery after Australia went to lunch at 0 for 111 having chosen to bat, but India's fortunes turned with Kumble's wrong'un. He removed the in-form Phil Jaques and Michael Hussey during a seven-over period in which Australia lost 3 for 30 soon after the first break and only Hayden's determination saved the hosts from more disappointment.
Hayden clearly had a point to prove. It was a less dominant display than many of his hundreds as he fought to again pull his weight after being the only one of Australia's top seven not to register a half-century in last month's Sri Lanka series. He reached triple figures from 126 balls with a well-timed four driven wide of mid-off from RP Singh and enjoyed the moment with an energetic wind-up to swing his bat and propel his bulky frame in a jump for joy.
A few of his runs came from trademark Hayden bludgeoning and walking at the bowler, although more often he relied on timing and placement, and a superbly-judged on-drive for four off Zaheer was a highlight. But Hayden appeared to tire after reaching triple-figures from 126 balls and nudged his way to 124 from 183 before clipping Zaheer to Rahul Dravid at mid-on.
He had already lost his steady partner Michael Clarke, who was unusually watchful in posting 20 from 60 deliveries as he tried to decide how to handle the challenge. The correct answer was probably not to try a jammed square drive with little foot movement to a wide half-volley from RP Singh, but Clarke attempted the shot and edged to second slip where VVS Laxman clutched a sharp chance.
It was the second breakthrough India's left-arm fast bowlers had manufactured by coming around the wicket, after Zaheer added Ricky Ponting (4) to the post-lunch list of victims. Zaheer delievered from wide of the crease and pitched it on off; Ponting played for the angle but the ball straightened and collected the top of off stump.
Zaheer's success was sandwiched between the initial Kumble double-strike that brought India back into the contest. Kumble almost singlehandedly promised the crowd of nearly 70,000 a more competitive series than last year's Ashes, which was played to packed houses around Australia. Kumble had Michael Hussey lbw for 2, struck on the back pad by a wrong'un, and Jaques also fell to the googly. He failed to pick the spin while trying to push back past the bowler and was stumped after slipping as he tried to regain his ground.
Jaques could hardly have guessed that his dismissal would spark such a comeback from India after he and Hayden posted a solid 135-run opening stand. The pair survived several plays and misses and streaky edges against the left-armers following Ponting's decision to bat, but after those wobbles they appeared to be cruising. They scored at a decent pace as Jaques took 108 balls for his 66 and confidently swept a pair of boundaries against Harbhajan Singh, who was nowhere near as threatening as Kumble.
Hayden and Jaques initially tried to deprive India of a positive Boxing Day experience as Hayden wanted to keep that honour for himself - he has now made a century in every Boxing Day Test since 2001-02 except against Pakistan three seasons ago. By the end of the day it was India who were having a more festive season.