An ugly yet priceless century by Australian vice captain Michael Clarke took the tourists to 577, only 36 runs short of India’s 7-613 on day four of the third Test.

Clarke (112) was dropped three times on Saturday before notching his eighth century in Tests by cutting Virender Sehwag for two on the last ball before tea, an innings more import than it was attractive.

Shane Watson (36), Brad Haddin (17) and Cameron White (44) batted soundly around Clarke to help Australia at least keep the series alive for the fourth Test at Nagpur.

Indian openers Sehwag and the banned Gautam Gambhir had a handful of overs to face before stumps.

The home side’s best bowler was again part-time spinner Sehwag (5-104), who found tremendous variation in turn to cause confusion in the minds of all batsmen, and thoroughly deserved his first five-wicket haul.

Home skipper Anil Kumble (3-112) returned to the field on Saturday after receiving stitches on Friday night for a deep cut in his left hand and was rewarded with his first wickets of the series.

Watson and Clarke started quickly and closed in on the 414 needed to avoid batting again, Watson pulling Zaheer Khan over square leg in the day’s opening over.

Ishant Sharma gave Clarke a life before the batsman had added to his overnight 21, allowing a lofted drive to burst through his fingers at mid off.

Many of their runs arrived through fortunate edges through third man, eventually forcing Kumble to post a fielder there, but there were also a few strokes of authority.

Sehwag’s introduction was an immediate clamp on the scoring rate, he again puzzled the batsmen by turning some balls viciously and others not at all.

It was one of the former deliveries that did for Watson. He shuffled across on the back foot, waiting for the turn as he had done successfully for much of the series, only to be beaten when the ball spun almost square to fizz behind his pads and flick leg stump.

Next man Haddin was tied in knots by Sehwag and Kumble, often made to look a batting novice rather than the spin educated player that he is in Australia, and was ultimately stumped after a frazzled charge down the pitch.

White’s tour has been rough, given a fiendishly difficult spin bowling commission and also failing to contribute the runs expected.

On Saturday he made it through the first few balls, striking a boundary right on lunch to break his duck, and gradually found his feet in the afternoon as a partnership developed.

Clarke’s luck held when VVS Laxman then Amit Mishra dropped simple chances in successive Sehwag overs.

By mid-session White was comfortable enough to crash Kumble down the ground for six and he was unfortunate to drag Sehwag onto his stumps 10 minutes before the break.

Brett Lee was lbw sweeping to Kumble soon after the players returned and Clarke’s 253-ball stay was ended when he failed to get to the pitch of Amit Mishra (2-144) and skied to long off.